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The Ambiguity of "Open" and VP8 Vs. H.264 493

An anonymous reader writes "With all the talk about WebM and H.264, how the move might be a step backwards for openness, and Google's intention to add 'plugins' for IE9 and Safari to support WebM, this article attempts to clear misconceptions about the VP8 and H.264 codecs and how browsers render video. Firefox, Opera and Google rely on their own media frameworks to decode video, whereas IE9 and Safari will hand over video processing to the operating system (Windows Media Player or QuickTime), the need for the web to establish a baseline codec for encoding videos, and how the Flash player is proprietary, but implementation and usage remain royalty free."
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The Ambiguity of "Open" and VP8 Vs. H.264

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  • by Desler ( 1608317 ) on Monday January 17, 2011 @01:48PM (#34906330)

    H.264s development was open? I mean really that is just a bit of a reach.

    Far more so than VP8's development was until last May. At least with H.264 it was being developed between different companies and industry groups whereas VP8 was a closed-source, proprietary codec developed by a two-bit company that almost no consumer before Google's buy out had every heard of.

  • What I care about (Score:5, Insightful)

    by magamiako1 ( 1026318 ) on Monday January 17, 2011 @01:49PM (#34906342)
    The only thing that concerns me about the web video format is that it needs to be unencumbered by royalties or other licensing. If I want to make a video, encode it, sell it, make ads off of a website, get 100 or 100,000 visitors, I should damn well be able to do that without having to pay a dime to anyone for the ability to make my own god damn videos--unless I optionally choose.

    By using h.264, you pretty much guarantee that *someone* *somewhere* is paying for it. Could you imagine if say, the "David After Dentist" kid had to pay tons and tons of royalties to the MPAA for a video they created simply because they used the h.264 container format? To even conceive such a thing is such bullshit that this should absolutely be a non-issue.

    Though this will never happen, the US government should claim eminent domain on all patents involving the h.264 technology, and then dare the large companies to make a move. After all, we're the ones with the guns.
  • Re:Ambiguity (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Desler ( 1608317 ) on Monday January 17, 2011 @01:50PM (#34906352)

    H.264 is closed. VP8 is open.

    How is H.264 closed? The spec is available for any one to buy and implement. If H.264 is "closed" than so can be said for the vast majority of ISO standards.

  • It's frustrating that only the OS-provided solutions (Safari and IE) are doing this right by handing it off to the OS. The notion that your browser needs to reimplement everything, including video rendering, is what leads to the bloatware we have today. The whole point of having an OS is to have a common framework and API layer that all applications hosted on it can access. Instead, Firefox, Chrome and Opera are all re-developing their own video rendering, for each platform they exist on, AND each one needs to write its own video-card accelerator layers for each platform it exists on.

  • by LWATCDR ( 28044 ) on Monday January 17, 2011 @01:59PM (#34906500) Homepage Journal

    Really? Can you contribute code to H.264? Can you use the spec in your own software and publish it with out a large amount of jumping through hoops?
    Really H.264 may have been public but I would not call it open. WebM is now what I would consider to be open as is Theora and Dirac [] .
    So no I do not feel that H.254 meets the definition of open as far as development goes.
    So yes it really is a bit of a reach IMHO.

  • Re:Ambiguity (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Americano ( 920576 ) on Monday January 17, 2011 @02:03PM (#34906550)

    H.264 is an open standard, governed by standards bodies (ISO & ITU). It is not, however, a 'free' standard, in either the "beer" or "freedom" sense.

    VP8 is a proprietary standard, governed by Google, and developed by a single company. It is, allegedly, a 'free' standard in both the beer and freedom sense - and it's worth noting that there are some concerns as to whether or not this standard would survive an IP infringement claim, making it less "free" than we're asked to assume.

    You're right, the definitions are quite clear. I'm just not sure why you seem to think it's opposite day when labelling H.264 as closed and VP8 as open. Until Google submits VP8 to ISO or some other standards body, it's not an "open" standard, it's a "Google says it's cool so I guess that's what we should do," standard. It would seem that you're conflating "royalty-free" with "open."

  • by magamiako1 ( 1026318 ) on Monday January 17, 2011 @02:05PM (#34906576)
    The point is the technology that is used on the internet should be royalty and licensing free. Period. If they want to be grinches about it, they can shove it up their ass.

    Let's think about what you're saying here. Just imagine this world.

    A) Pay per visitor for Ethernet
    B) Pay per visitor for IP
    C) Pay per visitor for TCP
    D) Pay per visitor for HTTP
    E) In addition to that, all vendors across all supply chains pay for rights to use these technologies. Cisco and Juniper pay royalty rights for the aforementioned technologies, end users pay for it in the devices. People and companies paying to run a business off of each of these technologies.
  • by Kilrah_il ( 1692978 ) on Monday January 17, 2011 @02:07PM (#34906626)

    You don't have the right to use a technology developed by someone else (e.g. H.264) without paying. It's nice if you have such an option and I understand why you would prefer it, but there is no inherent right to it.
    Arguments like yours are what sometimes weaken the FOSS movement. People who do not understand what FOSS is all about think it is full of whiny people who want to get everything for free. Guess what? You (me, everybody) don't deserve to get a video codec for free. There are some things that we deserve to get for free, but video codecs are not one of them.

    You could say that as a non-professional creator of videos (like the "David after Dentist" kid), you would be very happy to have a codec unencumbered by patents which you could use royalty-free, and thus you prefer WebM over H.264 due to this reason. You could even extend that to saying that you would support companies that push to more adoption of WebM throughout the Internet, due to the above reason. But "I should damn well..."? Sorry, it doesn't hold water.

  • by LWATCDR ( 28044 ) on Monday January 17, 2011 @02:09PM (#34906646) Homepage Journal

    "And neither was VP8 until 7 months ago when it was a completely closed-source codec."
    Well then this post would have been right 7 months ago. But that was seven months ago and this is now.

  • by davester666 ( 731373 ) on Monday January 17, 2011 @02:09PM (#34906658) Journal

    Well, all you can say right now is that nobody yet has publicly put forward a lawsuit asserting their patents against WebM.

    Google isn't indemnifying anybody against patent exposure for WebM, so if you were a real-world company, with say, an actual lawyer, the lawyer would certainly advise you to go with h.264 just to reduce your legal exposure.

    Because I'm sure there is more than one company out there just waiting for some more medium to large size companies to start using WebM, just for the cash windfall due to patent infringement.

  • by Desler ( 1608317 ) on Monday January 17, 2011 @02:13PM (#34906698)

    And that's why I said:

    Far more so than VP8's development was until last May

    Secondly, H.264 is no more "closed" than the supposed "open" standards such as ISO C++ with statements like:

    Can you contribute code to H.264?

    To turn it around, can YOU contribute to the C++ ISO standard? Highly unlikely just like it's highly unlikely that most people could contribute to the H.264 ISO standard. So by this logic C++ is also a "closed" standard, no?

  • by Desler ( 1608317 ) on Monday January 17, 2011 @02:16PM (#34906760)

    I don't think it stands up to any of the FOSS definitions of "open".

    And the same could be said about the C++ and ODF standards yet those are called "open" standards by the same people talking about how H.264 is "closed".

    VP8 - maybe it wasn't open 7 months ago, but it is now.

    Is it really? Can any individual really have any meaningful say in the direction of how the VP8 codec is developed unless you work at Google? Sure they've given the source out but you'll have no more say in how the spec develops than you would for the H.264 standard.

  • In this case, the right thing to do would be to release it to a video decoding layer for Linux

    Which would end up supporting only MPEG-1, Theora, and VP8 given the patent policies of many GNU/Linux distributors. And for each operating system, how should the browser direct the user to find and install appropriate codecs? Do video decoding layers for Linux even support codecs installed by one user for that user as opposed to codecs installed by root for all users? Most of the tutorials I found were for .deb installation on Ubuntu, which is always system-wide.

  • by Desler ( 1608317 ) on Monday January 17, 2011 @02:23PM (#34906888)

    Thank you. Someone finally understands what I'm saying. The problem is that so many other standards that work in the exact same way that H.264 did are referred to as "open" yet H.264 is demonized as being "closed" despite there being little to no difference in the way both standards were developed.

  • by Carewolf ( 581105 ) on Monday January 17, 2011 @02:26PM (#34906938) Homepage

    But that is in the past, by focusing on it now, you are making it look like (in fact making the argument) that H.264 is more open, through focus on and old irrelevant fact, but ignoring another definition of the word open where WebM is much more open than H.264 will ever be.

    Let's take this:
    * According to one aspect H.264 was once more open, but this aspect applies to the past.
    * According to another aspect WebM is much more open, and this applies today.

    I am not saying you are wrong, you are in fact right, but you are distorting the debate through pedantic and irrelevant details.

    Now you didn't start this doublespeak, but I can only think the person who did, was either doing so deliberately or is in serious denial.

  • Re:Ambiguity (Score:4, Insightful)

    by wile_e8 ( 958263 ) on Monday January 17, 2011 @02:28PM (#34906988)

    Secondly, even if you are distrbuting binary encoders/decoders you don't pay anything until you hit about 50,000 units shipped.

    This is the problem with x264. If x264 becomes the de facto standard, two guys in a garage will never be able to develop their own browser that competes with all the current market leaders, because the second it starts to gain widespread acceptance it becomes subject to royalty fees that two guys in a garage will never be able to afford. The x264 standard may be open, but you can't do anything useful with that standard without paying up.

  • by Nemyst ( 1383049 ) on Monday January 17, 2011 @02:30PM (#34907014) Homepage

    We are talking about now, though. I agree that H.264 is an open standard and VP8 was a closed one, but WebM is an open standard now and this is what should really matter at this point.

    The critical difference between the two formats now is that one is royalty free and one is temporarily royalty free - in other words, we have no idea how H.264 could evolve. Maybe it'll stay royalty free forever, which would make it an interesting alternative. Maybe it will not, though, and that could be a potential disaster for video on the web - or just a thorn in the side of Google and other big video sites.

    The big debate therefore is: do we stay with a widely adopted, high performance format that may behave like a Damocles sword, or do we switch now for what is currently an inferior but safer alternative?

  • by h4rr4r ( 612664 ) on Monday January 17, 2011 @02:32PM (#34907040)

    The C++ standard I can make a compiler for without paying anyone. It is not a burden to entry like h.264 is.

    The ISO stopped meaning anything the minute they approved the MS "open" formats.

  • by jedidiah ( 1196 ) on Monday January 17, 2011 @02:35PM (#34907078) Homepage

    > You don't have the right to use a technology developed by someone else (e.g. H.264) without paying.

    Well then, put a fork in it because it's done. Google has the right idea.

    h264 should be officially killed as a web standard because it is payware.

    Find something else to standardize on or get the relevant patents nullified.

    The whole lot of them should be emminent domained over this sort of rambus nonsense.

  • by HermMunster ( 972336 ) on Monday January 17, 2011 @02:36PM (#34907096)

    He was being rhetorical when he asked "really?".

    I think h.264 has done a great job for the web. It's provided us with high quality video on demand. It's helped ensure our hardware also has high quality video.

    VP8 on the other hand, regardless of its' roots is meant to help break a lock on the industry, a lock that h.264 has gained. It's a lock that must be broken. Having choice is really all that matters even if it sets things back once in a while. Often times industries take 2 steps forward and 1 step back.

    Technically, this is not a huge change. It isn't an instant change. If the industry can implement this in the web and other software products, as well as hardware, then so be it. If both need to be supported then so be it. It's not unheard of and not altogether uncommon.

    The goal is to give choice and to ensure that the consumer isn't locked into one product, that, in being so, denies them choice and increases their costs.

    So, so be it. Nothing we do here in debate will change the reality of the situation. Google's made a choice that it feels is best to ensure that things are open and inexpensive.

    Time to move forward.

  • Um, x264 is released under the GPL, and I've seen it included in recent Linux distributions.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 17, 2011 @02:43PM (#34907218)

    Bottom line is the Microsoft/Apple alliance is trying to keep video proprietary and Google, the outsider, is saying "Screw it, we are backing an open alternative". Deal with it.

  • by Fiduciary ( 1605801 ) on Monday January 17, 2011 @02:46PM (#34907258)

    I would say the difference between them is patent encumbrance. Sure you can use h.264 if you're a smelly basement dwelling open source fanatic, but commercial usage is limited by patent licensing and royalties.

  • by betterunixthanunix ( 980855 ) on Monday January 17, 2011 @03:09PM (#34907592)

    You don't have the right to use a technology developed by someone else (e.g. H.264) without paying. It's nice if you have such an option and I understand why you would prefer it, but there is no inherent right to it.

    No, actually, it is the other way around: there is no inherent right to demand payment for your ideas. Patents are nothing more than a legal construct designed to encourage innovation, and patents expire for that very reason: they are artificial and deprive people of the natural right to implement what they know (i.e. the patented the material, which they may read). Furthermore, mathematics cannot be patented, and the legal basis for software patents (which amount to patents on mathematics, like it or not) is extremely shaky, and yes, you do have a right to use someone's mathematical discoveries without paying them (unless they call it an algorithm and get a patent on it, in which case you cannot exercise your right for 20 years).

    Seriously, this bizarre notion that you have a natural right to forbid other people from using your ideas needs to be dropped. Patents are not a natural right; if they were, they could not expire, any more than your rights to live or speak freely can expire.

  • by msauve ( 701917 ) on Monday January 17, 2011 @04:06PM (#34908330)
    Likewise, there's no assurance that if you license H.264, you won't have to pay additional patent royalties in the future. And, you get no patent indemnification from MPEG-LA, either. Would you rather pay to take a risk, or not pay to take a risk?

    Q: Are all AVC essential patents included?
    A: No assurance is or can be made that the License includes every essential patent. The purpose of the License is to offer a convenient licensing alternative to everyone on the same terms and to include as much essential intellectual property as possible for their convenience. Participation in the License is voluntary on the part of essential patent holders, however.

    - AVC/H.264 FAQ []

  • by rtfa-troll ( 1340807 ) on Monday January 17, 2011 @04:08PM (#34908364)

    The problem, of course, is we don't know whether VP8 will stay royalty free either with the patent threats hanging over it.

    Which specific patent threats? I'm not talking bullshit random "there might be a patent threat somewhere hiding under the wardrobe" patent threats. I'm talking threats with a patent number and a "you are infringing, pay up or else" letter attached to them.

    Let me make a patent "threat". There might be a secret H.264 patent that which I might have heard of which which will maybe suddenly come to life next year. If you don't pay me a million Euros for every device you have I might not use my (possibly existing or possibly not existing) influence to divert this threat that may (or may not) appear later.

    Anybody can do that. If you fail to specifically notify someone who has put a public implementation out for free, what they have done wrong you aren't fulfilling your duties as a patent holder wanting to collect royalties.

    And with Google refusing to indemnify users of the spec, and refusing to take legal action to get a legal opinion (from a court - what are those called?) that it violates no patents, one can't be sure whether MPEG-LA's rumbling has any basis in fact.

    Strangely enough the MPEG-LA also provides no indemnification and has failed to "legal action to get a legal opinion". What Google provides, for free, is a license for all patents known to be used in the WebM standard, exactly the same as the MPEG-LA charges for.

    What is interesting is; what is the source for your ideas? Where did you even get the idea that Google is "refusing to take legal action"? It's impossible to prove a negative and it's impossible to take action against widespread innuenduo. No judge will grant an open statement that "no patents are infringed". At best they could act to say "patent number XYZ was not infringed. You should look over that source agan and see if it's not trying to mislead you over a bunch of other things.

  • by vijayiyer ( 728590 ) on Monday January 17, 2011 @05:15PM (#34908994)

    Yet, oddly, it is the smelly basement dwelling open source fanatics who are complaining most about H.264. The others out there who really have a product to sell realize the licensing fees are really minimal.

  • by toriver ( 11308 ) on Monday January 17, 2011 @05:20PM (#34909036)

    Patents also encumber USB and HDMI, I haven't seen Google on the barricades against those technologies used in Android phones and Google TVs respectively.

  • They're comming (Score:4, Insightful)

    by pavon ( 30274 ) on Monday January 17, 2011 @05:23PM (#34909076)

    Over 20 hardware manufacturers are working on WebM hardware implementations, including Broadcom and Qualcomm, the two biggest chipset makers for mobile devices. When H.264 was standardized, all computer implementations were done in software as well. The hardware acceleration came later. Three years ago, HD-DVD and BluRay war was still undecided, and smartphones that played streaming video all but non-existent. Who knows how much inroads WebM could make in the next three years.

    SmugMug was starting to consider HTML5, but Google's latest decision has them moving back to Flash.

    Firefox and Opera don't support H.264 either, and they have much greater market share than Google. So if this announcement changes anyone's plans, they obviously hadn't thought them through very well to begin with. Either you support two formats for the next several years until everything is sorted out, or you exclude a large portion of your audience. This is a draft standard we are talking about. You should expect early adopter issues.

  • Sure they can (Score:4, Insightful)

    by SuperKendall ( 25149 ) on Monday January 17, 2011 @06:19PM (#34909640)

    This is the problem with x264. If x264 becomes the de facto standard, two guys in a garage will never be able to develop their own browser that competes with all the current market leaders

    Any browser writer could implement the video tag in such a way they fall back to system supported codecs. Then they need not pay anyone even though on all platforms you would support h.264 playback.

Air is water with holes in it.