Google dumping HTML5 <video> H.264

we are changing Chrome’s HTML5 <video> support to make it consistent with the codecs already supported by the open Chromium project. Specifically, we are supporting the WebM (VP8) and Theora video codecs, and will consider adding support for other high-quality open codecs in the future. Though H.264 plays an important role in video, as our goal is to enable open innovation, support for the codec will be removed and our resources directed towards completely open codec technologies.

Now for the smart comments from Daring Fireball that support my confusedness.

The big problem WebM has versus H.264 is that there are hardware decoders for H.264. This is key for mobile devices. It’s the hardware video decoding that allows mobile devices to get such long battery life and smooth performance for video playback. There’s no way publishers can drop H.264. To support Chrome, they’d have to add WebM-encoded versions of each video.


In addition to supporting H.264, Chrome currently bundles an embedded version of Adobe’s closed source and proprietary Flash Player plugin. If H.264 support is being removed to “enable open innovation”, will Flash Player support be dropped as well? If not, why?

Android currently supports H.264. Will this support be removed from Android? If not, why not?

YouTube uses H.264 to encode video. Presumably, YouTube will be re-encoding its entire library using WebM. When this happens, will YouTube’s support for H.264 be dropped, to “enable open innovation”? If not, why not?

Do you expect companies like Netflix, Amazon, Vimeo, Major League Baseball, and anyone else who currently streams H.264 to dual-encode all of their video using WebM? If not, how will Chrome users watch this content other than by resorting to Flash Player’s support for H.264 playback?

Who is happy about this?

Answer to the last question is, I think, Adobe, but I’m very confused by this whole thing. WebM, regardless of technical merit, is not an open standards. It’s open source, with one implementation, which is different.

Pretty good argument that it’s all about YouTube.

It’s pretty disappointing.

Chrome is growing faster than most people expected but is still only ~10% of the market which doesn’t give them anywhere near the kind of leverage they’d need to drop H.264 support from YouTube in the near term. Yes, other browsers are also going to support WebM, but that is also years off in terms of both actual support and then waiting for the masses to finally upgrade.

H.264 is already nearly ubiquitously supported by all browsers past, current and future via Flash, so if that guy at IBM were right about the decision solely being about infrastructure costs, I don’t see why they wouldn’t standardize YouTube around H.264. Basically I don’t think his logic really holds together here.

But that still doesn’t make any sense. There are no hardware WebM video or Theora decoders, in iPhones, Android, Windows 7, nothing. Sure, they always say “they’re coming”, but the moment you remove H.264 encoded video, all the existing mobile devices stop working.

I’m a little annoyed at Google too – H.264 and WebM are comparable in terms of quality, and H.264’s existence for years means that there’s plenty of choice for various industries for encoders and decoders. Broadcast, defense, whatever, they all have converged on H.264, and I was happy that various commercial devices could (assuming the profiles were done right) integrate right into that ecosystem.

And then Google decides to monkeywrench that up because they hate paying for things? Goddamn it.

Sure, but most of that isn’t Google’s problem. And if they switch YouTube over to the open standard, everyone’s gonna have to deal with that because content is king. If Google has a choice between open standard and h.264, it’ll pick open standard and play chicken with everyone else. Now, Google may blink, but it’s hoping the other side blinks first.

But H.264 is a standard under ISO/IEC, it just has licensing costs associated with maintaining the patent pool so that no jerk can come along, say it infringes, and demand money from rich people.

There are numerous H.264 implementations for encoders and decoders, and it’s well tested and does the job.

WebM is NOT a standard, it’s just open, and, well, someone could up and sue them and cloud the issue even more.

WebM is not better, it’s just different, and will cost lots of money to be spent by people other than Google to view the content. Google’s just trying to dump their costs onto the rest of us because they’ve got the Youtube content that we want to watch.

And I’m writing this in Chrome. Screw this, I’m uninstalling this browser once I turn on user switching on my wife’s Mac laptop and going back to Safari.

Okay, for hardware, surely you saw Google’s recent announcement about hardware encoders/decoders being available for licensing? I’d be shocked if the next Nexus didn’t have WebM hardware in it.

As for the suing thing, XPav, you’re wrong about how patent licensing works. It is entirely 100% possible that someone can come along with a submarine patent on H.264 and sue everyone who uses it even if they were licensed through MPEG-LA. All MPEG-LA does is give the extortionist a more convenient way to get their dollars, so that they mostly don’t bother to do it the hard way. But they could if they wanted to.

I’m skeptical that Chrome has enough influence to change the world for the better, but I applaud Google for trying all the same. Daring Fireball’s criticism of this is just asinine – seriously, if you’re quoting a goddamn Slashdot commenter, you may want to rethink your argument.

I see it simply – I can play an H.264 file on everything, right now. Even crappy old Windows XP.

Google is breaking that, and wants all the end users to buy new mobile and change their web browsers.

Fuck them.

My love affair with Chrome has hit a very rocky point in our relationship.


Ars has a great article up now on the whole situation.

I fell in love with Chrome from day one but this is a pretty big speed bump for me.

That is a great article, covers it well.

I really have to wonder if Google has their shit coordinated. I get the impression that the Chrome team is at odds with the Android team, but that Google really doesn’t care that much about any of this stuff as long as they can stuff ads into whatever’s being sold.

This move is to ruin Apple. Flash will dominate for the next half decade now.

Also, lol at you who equated h264 with vp8 in terms of efficiency.

I also see this as irritating the shit out Android hardware manufacturers now. If Google follows through, all the Android hardware manufacturers are going to have to put yet more chips into their phone to get Youtube.

I’m not convinced anyone will bother with webm. The future I envision is one where Flash reigns supreme, entirely unmolested by lesser codecs. I’d really like that future.

But Flash isn’t a codec… You still have to use h.264, or webM or whatever with Flash.

Flash doesn’t support webm, it supports h264. And a whole bunch of other legacy codecs that flash has already superceded. So in case it wasn’t obvious, I hope h264 reigns supreme. The delivery mechanism is less important to me.

Yeah, exactly. Flash is a container, like AVI and MP4. H.264 encoded video on Youtube can have one encoding, and play through Flash or other methods such as HTML5 video in the browser.