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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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  • Re:Ambiguity (Score:5, Interesting)

    by El_Muerte_TDS ( 592157 ) on Monday January 17, 2011 @01:54PM (#34906412) Homepage

    If H.264 is "closed" than so can be said for the vast majority of ISO standards.

    Not sure if it's a vast majority, but a lot of ISO standards are closed. Even so closed that you cannot read them without paying a shitload of money.

  • Re:What I care about (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 17, 2011 @02:09PM (#34906642)

    MPEG-LA has a real quandary here. Imagine, for a moment, that you're running the MPEG-LA business, and think about the devices that code and (more importantly) decode video. Your job is to create as many revenue streams as possible. In order to do this, you want your encoder used by all content producers, but more importantly, the content producers need an audience, so you want your *decoder* used by all consumers.

    Furthermore, you're smart enough to realize that you want royalties on every *hardware* device (think cellphones, DVD players, etc.) that is shipped with h.264, and perhaps every copy of OS X and Windows. You also realize that there is zero money to be made from including h.264 n Firefox/etc, because Firefox generates no revenue. In fact, you *want* h.264 used in Firefox, Chrome, etc., just because it increases the audience size. So you sit down to rewrite the royalty/licensing structures to specifically allow free browsers to implement h.264 for free, but then you stop. Why? Because you've just realized that these little hardware devices (or even DVD players, these days) can incorporate Firefox/Chrome/etc. into their software stack and thereby skirt any royalty structure you've just set up for your hardware devices.

    Maybe it's because I'm not a lawyer, but I can't conceive of any legal language that would allow MPEG-LA to distinguish between browser+h.264 on computer vs. browser+h.264 on cellphones/DVD players/whatever devices comes along in the future.

  • by Andy Dodd ( 701 ) <atd7.cornell@edu> on Monday January 17, 2011 @02:18PM (#34906796) Homepage

    A good point here - Google has a lot of "green" initiatives (reduced-power computing, huge solar cell farms on their roof, etc.)

    This approach is NOT a "green" approach - a "green" approach is one that makes use of the large amount of hardware acceleration infrastructure now deployed for the existing standard codecs.

    WebM/VP8 will force a non-accelerated CPU-only rendering path on ALL existing hardware. This eats power compared to hardware acceleration. (Look at how well most Android devices handle H.264 thanks to hardware accelerated decoding.)

    Google is being hypocritical and inconsistent here. Great summary at [] - Key here is, HTML5 was supposed to at least partially break Adobe's stranglehold on the web by moving some content away from Flash. Google just killed any hope of that - They talk about supporting open codecs, but they still bundle Adobe Flash (which includes H.264 support) with Chrome?

    As a result of this mess, content providers are starting to shy away from HTML5 and stick with what "just works" (for the most part) - SmugMug was starting to consider HTML5, but Google's latest decision has them moving back to Flash.

  • by amolapacificapaloma ( 1000830 ) on Monday January 17, 2011 @02:20PM (#34906822) Homepage

    Ah, but can't write such a thing and release it under the gpl... And that's my problem with adopting h.264 as the standard. We wouldn't be able to have general-purpose Free OS anymore ;)

  • Re:What I care about (Score:5, Interesting)

    by cgenman ( 325138 ) on Monday January 17, 2011 @02:57PM (#34907408) Homepage

    I think you missed the part where he said "unless I optionally choose." When someone buys a camera, and buys a software system that supports it, they expect that they own the chain and what they create with it. Since we're talking about the standardization of the tag in HTML 5 to H.264, we are talking about essentially forcing people into a royalty-based production chain. Already, there is the problem of H.264 being standard on many video cameras, and requiring undisclosed (at the time of purchase) royalty payments for wedding videographers, garage music video makers, and other semi-pro video producers.

    It's an unexpected tax. If we're creating a web standard for an open and widely available internet, it should also be as unexpected-tax free as possible.

  • Re:What I care about (Score:3, Interesting)

    by debrain ( 29228 ) on Monday January 17, 2011 @02:59PM (#34907434) Journal

    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.

    Sir —

    To preface, I suggest you may wish to read Lawrence Lessig's Free Culture: The Nature and Future of Creativity [], which I believe supports the following statements.

    With respect, your statements that one does not have an inherent right to use a technology as the starting point for an analysis is not correct, from a legal and policy perspective, in a free and democratic society.

    In a free culture everyone has an inherent right to do anything, subject to the restrictions imposed and enforced by way of the rule of law. "Anything" includes using video codecs. This is the starting point of the analysis of rights in a free society.

    In the case of video codecs, namely source code and executable binaries, an inherent right granting anyone use over it may be limited by intellectual property laws that define, identify, and restrict the use of certain creations under threat of civil and criminal penalty, on the basis that society deems these creations to be of value and therefore encourages this creation by granting over them a limited monopoly that can be traded for compensation. The types of intellectual properties typically recognized is short: copyright, trademark, patent and trade secrets. Any and all of these may apply to an a video codec, circumstances depending.

    In general, patents and copyright are going to be the protections most relied upon to restrict a video codec from the inherent right to free usage. These are temporary protections, meaning that the law reverts to the inherent state of a free right to usage after the applicable copyrights and patents have expired.

    All to say, everyone has an inherent right to use the intellectual creations of others, such as video codes. There may be temporary limitations on that inherent right of free use, but these limitations are neither inherent to nor permanent over the intellectual creation. They are, rather, artificial impositions made by the rule of law in an effort to advance economic and social benefits.

    While this may come across as pedantic, and I'm not endorsing the grandparent post, I feel is important to understand the analysis that underlies this particular question of rights and freedoms, and in particular the purpose of those protections – a consideration often distant from the argument.

    Thank you for the opportunity to make this response.

  • by Jah-Wren Ryel ( 80510 ) on Monday January 17, 2011 @03:56PM (#34908218)

    Why are you lying?

    FFMPeg is GPL
    x264 is also GPL

    Do I need to go on and list a few more, or is two enough to snub your ignorance?

    He's not lying, he's just over-simplfying.
    So far, software patents have not been legally applied to source code because source code has been clearly defined as "speech" as it is a means for people to express ideas.
    So it is legal to write and distribute source code.
    But, in most countries with software patents, it is illegal to actually use a binary built from that source code.
    Its just the compiling it yourself or downloading it from a country without software patents makes it pretty much impossible to get caught.

  • by hairyfeet ( 841228 ) <bassbeast1968 AT gmail DOT com> on Monday January 17, 2011 @04:50PM (#34908786) Journal

    But with WebM VS H.264 everyone seems to be happily ignoring the elephant in the room...WebM sucks. I'm sorry, but it does. You are pretty much gonna have to toss every mobile device or watch the battery go dead so fast you might as well just drag a very long extension cord with you and call that mobile. H.264 hardware acceleration is built into just about EVERYTHING, desktops, laptops, pads, phones, TVs, PMPs, etc. Are we gonna throw every single one of those devices out now? Wow that will do wonders for the environment.

    The facts are these: Even if everyone started work right this second you are probably looking at around 2 years before WebM support trickles down to the chips in our everyday devices. And of course every device already out built in the last four years or so, plus everything coming down the pipe for the 2 years it will take to add support for WebM? They will all run H.264 great and WebM like ass. So I really hate to burst Google's bubble but it's a little too little, a little too late when it comes to WebM. Like Vorbis by the time it got to the party the world had decided on something else (in that case a likewise encumbered MP3) but you know what? It is only geeks and FOSS advocates that give a flying crap about "free as in freedom man, yeah!" and the rest of the world just throws a few pennies to MPEG-LA or whomever and doesn't give a fuck.

    So if Google wants to pull a MSFT and shoot itself in the foot, go right ahead! it still won't make flash or H.264 go anywhere, as a matter of fact I predict this will further entrench flash as one will only have to leave a "raw" H.264 file for iDevice users and drop the same file in a flash container for everybody else, thus making their lives easier. What Google is attempting is to make another tower of Babble like we had with RMV VS WMV VS QT back in the 90s, but the common man just isn't gonna put up with that shit anymore. If Youtube doesn't work on their iDevice or it sucks their new Droid deader than Dixie when they use it? Well screw Youtube then, it isn't like there aren't a bazillion sites where they can see funny cat videos out there and they sure as hell ain't giving up their new iShiny toys for stupid Youtube clips, now are they?

The Force is what holds everything together. It has its dark side, and it has its light side. It's sort of like cosmic duct tape.