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Concrete Comparisons of Theora Vs. Mpeg-4 325

Posted by timothy
from the good-use-for-that-beta-you-downloaded dept.
icknay writes "With the upcoming Firefox 3.5 and HTML5 video, there's natural interest in Theora vs. Mpeg-4, but without much evidence either way. Here's clips encoded at various rates to provide concrete comparison between Theora and Mpeg-4. Theora performs decently, but requires more bandwidth than Mpeg-4 (although this is a 1.1alpha release of Theora and Theora has a much better license than Mpeg-4). The quality comparisons are very subjective, but you can try the clips yourself and see how it breaks down. There was an earlier discussion about this, but it lacked much concrete evidence. (Disclosure: it's my page.)"
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Concrete Comparisons of Theora Vs. Mpeg-4

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  • My results (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 22, 2009 @02:13PM (#28425805)

    Both make terrible concrete. I recommend you buy some mix at the hardware store instead.

  • Disclosure (Score:5, Funny)

    by WED Fan (911325) <akahige.trashmail@net> on Monday June 22, 2009 @02:18PM (#28425877) Homepage Journal
    Disclosure: I'm trying to stress test my server. Please nuke it into the slag of its constituent parts.
    • by YA_Python_dev (885173) on Monday June 22, 2009 @02:54PM (#28426457) Journal

      There are three things that this test doesn't consider:

      1. for the same bitrate (1000 kbit/s) the Mpeg-4 file is 5.2% bigger than the Ogg one;
      2. nobody uses video alone like in this test, there's always audio and the audio codec associated with Theora (Vorbis) rocks: same quality as MP3 for half the bitrate. Bits saved on the sound can be used to improve the video; and, yes, it is apples-to-apples comparing the overall bitrate of Ogg/Theora+Vorbis against an all-Mpeg-4 solution.
      3. but the most important detail is that they used a constant average bitrate encoding with Theora, which is known to give inferior results for the same bitrate to simply setting the quality to match the desired bitrate.

      For real life examples, that also include sound see "YouTube / Ogg/Theora comparison" [xiph.org] and "Another online-video comparison" [xiph.org].

      • What is it with you people that you want Ogg to be better than any other codec?
        Isn't it sufficient to say: "The difference is insignificant, but since Ogg has a better license and readily available code, use that"?

        Most people will not care what is better by 0.3%, you are making yourself a target to FUD of the sort "experts do not agree yet ... best to buy ours!"

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by broken_chaos (1188549)

          He claimed OGG is twice as good as MP3 is, not even 0.3%... Nevermind that MP3 doesn't even enter the equation when comparing H.264 to Theora (both because H.264 is typically paired with AAC audio and the video quality is the important question here, given the comparatively small size of audio), but that's also a blatant lie. You won't get double the quality out of OGG or AAC when compared to MP3, no way.

        • by Machtyn (759119) on Monday June 22, 2009 @03:44PM (#28427395) Homepage Journal
          I believe the issue is that, even though Ogg Theora has a better license, the codec was really bad compared to other, similar codecs. At least, that has been the going concern. Given a choice between a better user experience or a better license *most* users will choose experience.

          The need to prove Ogg Theora is better is to attempt to counter this concern.
          • by mccrew (62494)

            Given a choice between a better user experience or a better license *most* users will choose experience.

            Wish I had mod points for a +1 Insightful. Can we just end the thread here? This pretty much sums it up. The only change I might suggest is to change the word "most" to "the overwhelming majority."

            • by ShieldW0lf (601553) on Monday June 22, 2009 @06:42PM (#28430473) Journal

              The thing you're missing is that users are irrelevant in this situation. The decision lies with the publishers.

              If a publisher had to pay a lot of money to MPEG-LA, and suddenly they have another option, that is a big deal.

              If you want to become a publisher and you don't have a lot of money or a large legacy of content, then this is an option where before you had none. That is an even bigger deal.

              As far as user choice goes, the vast majority just watch what is there and have no clue what the difference is. Discussing their opinion is pointless.

          • by mhall119 (1035984)

            It was my understanding that the format and decoder for Theora were fine, it was the encoder that was lacking in the past. I know there has been a lot of work recently to improve that.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by BikeHelmet (1437881)

        Ogg is definitely superior to those other audio codecs.

        I've been playing with audio/video encoding a lot recently, at extremely low bitrates. I'm not quite ready to post my results, but here's the gist of it:

        Using the Saga Frontier Intro [youtube.com] as a baseline, with lots of tingy sounds that you'd find in a PS1 game, these had the same subjective quality:

        3GPP AAC+; 28kbit (But doesn't mux properly into mp4; only mkv)
        CT AAC+; 36kbit (But explosions are still a little off)
        FAAC; ~50kbit (But explosions are still a litt

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by wagnerrp (1305589)

        nobody uses video alone like in this test, there's always audio and the audio codec associated with Theora (Vorbis) rocks: same quality as MP3 for half the bitrate. Bits saved on the sound can be used to improve the video; and, yes, it is apples-to-apples comparing the overall bitrate of Ogg/Theora+Vorbis against an all-Mpeg-4 solution.

        Using mp3 suddenly makes it not an all-mpeg4 solution. What's the comparison between Vorbis and AAC?

  • by spud603 (832173) on Monday June 22, 2009 @02:19PM (#28425901)
    I sort of knew Theora was a bit behind than Mpeg-4, but I didn't realize by how much. The Theora clip that has a 60% higher bitrate than the Mpeg-4 still looks fuzzier to my eyes (especially the moving grass).
    • by stdarg (456557) on Monday June 22, 2009 @02:25PM (#28425987)

      I noticed in the last discussion that Theora does better when you take a single frame and look. It seems to have a lot more details. However, it's apparent in the clips that the detail comes at the expense of smoothness between frames. If you watch the background it's jumping around a lot, making it look fuzzy, presumably as Theora tries to preserve various details.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by AvitarX (172628)

        I bet they get that somewhat figured out, as it should lead to better compression too.

      • by tenco (773732)

        I noticed in the last discussion that Theora does better when you take a single frame and look. It seems to have a lot more details.

        Indeed. Just look at the first frame of the soccer vid. In the MPEG-4 version you can't make out the ear from the guy on the left and the pattern on the ball is completely gone. Not with Theora.

    • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Monday June 22, 2009 @02:42PM (#28426265) Journal

      Theora is based on VP3, which is a generation older than MPEG-4. It's been improved a lot, but it's still old technology. Tarkin had a lot more potential, but a few years ago Theora was doing something and Tarkin was still mostly theoretical so the developers focussed on Theora. In hindsight, this may have been a mistake. Theora competes well with MPEG-2, but no one is using MPEG-2 for web distribution.

      Longer term, Dirac looks more promising. It's comparable quality to H.264, is royalty-free, and has two open source implementations. Schroedinger, the newer one, is MIT licensed, and so can be use anywhere. Currently, the CPU load is too high for everyday use, however.

      • by BrentH (1154987)

        That's not what I read here: http://web.mit.edu/xiphmont/Public/theora/demo.html [mit.edu]

        Says in theory Theora could perform somewhere between mpeg4 and h264, but (as always) that requires time and effort.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by kriston (7886)

        Still, the developers of Theora found several glaring mistakes in the reference implementation of VP3 which brought it immediately to the same quality and bit rate level as MPEG-2. Everything since then has been vast improvements on both the encoder and the decoder.

        It's like the LAME MP3 encoder. The vast improvements made in the encoder reaped huge benefits without even changing the decoder. With Theora, Ogg (and by extension, we) control both the encoder AND the decoder.

        It's really not as bad as you th

  • Subjective Measures (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 22, 2009 @02:25PM (#28425991)

    Subjective measures are really the best way to evaluate video quality. There are (objective) quantitative measures such as PSNR, but they don't really tell you what the impact of video compression does for the eye. Video quality evaluations mostly involve showing clips (like these) to a large amount of people and asking them which they liked better. There is a lot to consider in terms of how the video responds to packet loss, jitter, etc.

  • by hattig (47930) on Monday June 22, 2009 @02:27PM (#28426013) Journal

    The important line from the article: "Theora uses 1600kbps, or about 60% more bandwidth than Mpeg-4 to reach about the same quality."

    Also useful to get some scale: "The uncompressed clip is 349 megabytes, while the 1600kbps Theora clip is 2 megabytes -- Theora may lag Mpeg-4 at this time, but it still yields great compression."

    and "Theora is significantly better than Mpeg-2. Mpeg-2 required about 2400 kbps to hit the subjective quality level above, 50% higher than Theora's bandwidth."

    Some things I would have liked to have seen: 250kbps, 500kbps, 2mbps, 8mbps videos, with subjective quality difference (rather than same subjective quality at different bitrates). Theora is apparently very good at lower bitrates, and not everybody has an awesome broadband connection, so they may be forced to watch lower-bitrate streams. Does the HTML5 video tag support selecting streams based upon available bandwidth?

    • The important line from the article: "Theora uses 1600kbps, or about 60% more bandwidth than Mpeg-4 to reach about the same quality."

      I had to use the direct links, but noticed that the ogg version was 10% taller but the same contents. A skewing like this could easily explain bad perceived quality, did anybody else notice this or it is just my Firefox 3.5 beta on linux that's messed up?

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by devinoni (13244)

        I had to use the direct links, but noticed that the ogg version was 10% taller but the same contents. A skewing like this could easily explain bad perceived quality, did anybody else notice this or it is just my Firefox 3.5 beta on linux that's messed up?

        10% taller visually? I think that's because that both videos were encoded at 704x576. That gives us an 11:9 aspect ratio for both, however the H.264 version has a 4:3 display aspect ratio set, so that it looks correct. It would be better if they had used square pixels for their raw source, so we don't need to compare anamorphic displaying of the videos as well.

  • by steveha (103154) on Monday June 22, 2009 @02:27PM (#28426025) Homepage

    The situation seems pretty clear to me.

    Theora is just not as good as H.264; you can get better quality with the same bits in H.264, or similar quality in fewer bits.

    Theora is, however, good enough for general use for Internet video. It's at least as good as H.263, which actually has been used for years. (Breathless claims that Theora would need twice as many bits as H.264 are just silly.)

    Since Theora is free in all ways, browsers can just build it in, and sites like Wikipedia are going to use it. Since H.264 is better, sites with money will pay the H.264 fees to save money on bandwidth. And, if I had a web business, I'd hesitate to paint myself into a corner with H.264; the patent owners have the power to jack up the royalties if they decide to.

    In short, both Theora and H.264 will be found on the Internet in the near future. And we can all just get along.

    (Now watch Theora fanboys and H.264 fanboys team up to mod this post down through the floor... :-)

    P.S. Ogg Vorbis never toppled MP3 from the throne. However, the existence of Vorbis may have exerted some downward pressure on the licensing fees for the paid codecs. In a similar way, the existence of Theora may cause the patent holders for the other video formats to not try to charge quite as much.

    steveha

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      P.S. Ogg Vorbis never toppled MP3 from the throne. However, the existence of Vorbis may have exerted some downward pressure on the licensing fees for the paid codecs.

      But it didn't. In actuality, the license costs for licensing MP3 has actually increased since the time that Vorbis was being initially designed in some cases by almost 25%.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by clone53421 (1310749)

        That doesn't necessarily prove that Vorbis didn't make a difference.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by wren337 (182018)

      Ogg Vorbis died because it had a stupid name. Really, Ogg Vorbis? Or just "ogg" for short. You might as well have named it "Ugg". Or "blech".

      Next time try something that doesn't sound like retching. Never underestimate the power of a really terrible name to kill a product.

    • by LWATCDR (28044)

      I am not a codec fanboy but I have to disagree.
      Theora isn't as good as H.264. It will have a very had time becoming a standard and that is with good reason.
      Now what I wonder is how does Dirac shape up? Way too many people only seem to care about Theora when there is another free video codec that may actually be better.

    • by Guspaz (556486)

      Vorbis did make some inroads into the game market, though. It's not all that rare that I see a copyright notice for Xiph in the opening of a game. The most recent example is Ghostbusters.

      A list:

      http://wiki.xiph.org/index.php/Games_that_use_Vorbis [xiph.org]

      Everything from Halo (Mac/PC) to Guitar Hero (II) and Rock Band to GTA to Quake4 / Doom 3 to Devil May Cry and all sorts of games in between.

  • Could somebody please explain to me why the license matters? I mean, I understand that if a license limits mpeg-4 encoding to a single government computer running Windows ME that was lost 5 years ago, that the license is a HUGE barrier to entry to use the codec. However, in this case the license seems to be the only single category in which Theora wins. The compression is worse than mpeg-4. The compression takes more space. But look! The license is a little better! WINNER!

    • License (Score:5, Informative)

      by XanC (644172) on Monday June 22, 2009 @02:40PM (#28426221)

      The license is the single most important thing. It determines whether or not you can use the software at all, or for your specific purpose, whatever that is.

      When we're talking about establishing a standard for the Web, which everybody is expected to be a) able and b) allowed to use, there is nothing more important than the license.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by clone53421 (1310749)

        The user doesn't care about the license, because it's only relevant if you're encoding video.

        YouTube, etc. will have to deal with licensing if they want to re-encode the videos that people upload using that codec. The users won't know the difference.

        • Re:License (Score:5, Informative)

          by Quantumstate (1295210) on Monday June 22, 2009 @03:57PM (#28427669)

          People providing decoders have to pay the license fee.

          "Royalties to be paid by end product manufacturers for an encoder, a decoder or both (âoeunitâ) begin at US $0.20 per unit after the first 100,000 units each year. There are no royalties on the first 100,000 units each year. Above 5 million units per year, the royalty is US $0.10 per unit."

          This causes issues for free software especially with the gpl because there is a clause which says you cannot restrict the distribution of the code but by having to pay a license fee this is a restriction.

      • The license matters a whole lot less than the potential patent encumbrance for the codec.

        The developers of Theora state that the codec is not encumbered by patents, but to my knowledge, there's been no legal tests of that and no intensive review of the possible areas of infringement by a patent attorney. That's a serious issue for the uptake of the codec by vendors, since they're potentially on the hook if it later turns out that the codec infringes on people patents and the holders want to be dicks about

        • by XanC (644172)

          But the same is true if it turns out the MPEG4 codec infringes on somebody else's patent.

          • But the MP4 codec is produced by a company that 1) holds a significant number of patents itself (which both reduces the issues with infringement, and the likelihood of lawsuits, since in that limited domain, a lawsuit war can be dangerous for everyone), and 2) would indemnify the licensing parties against infringement suits.

    • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Monday June 22, 2009 @02:54PM (#28426461) Journal

      The license means that every product that includes an encoder or decoder for MPEG-4 (including AVC / H.264) needs to pay the MPEG-LA a small free for every version they sell (or give away). This is incompatible with Free Software. Imagine that FireFox included an MPEG-4 implementation. The Mozilla Corporation makes enough money that they could afford to pay the maximum annual fee for this license, but what happens after you download it? If you give a copy of FireFox to someone else, then you need to pay the license fee (except you can't, because the MPEG-LA doesn't offer licenses except in large quantities). Maybe Moz. Corp. could pay that license too, but what happens in a few years time when they decide to stop? Suddenly, no one can redistribute any copies or derived works of FireFox. The root problem is that it is not possible to get a license for MPEG-4 that permits the kind of arbitrary redistribution that Free Software entails. Although the license fees are capped, they are capped annually, so each year you need to pay again or you no longer have a license to distribute code implementing the patents.

      This is why Theora is better as a standard format. Anyone can implement it, at no cost and with no restrictions. H.264 is better quality, and so makes sense as an optional format for HTML 5 to support, but requiring it would mean that it would be impossible for the second-most-popular web browser to be HTML compliant. Of course, in an ideal world, the W3C, Mozilla Corporation, Google, or some other interested party would just buy the H.264 patents outright and let them lapse, but somehow I don't think that's very likely.

      • by FunkyELF (609131)
        When I compile mplayer with H.264 support who is paying the license. Am I in violation of this license?
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by mrchaotica (681592) *

          When I compile mplayer with H.264 support who is paying the license.

          Nobody.

          Am I in violation of this license?

          Yes!

          This is why stuff like that gets separated from everything else and marked something like "non-Free" or "non-U.S. users only." Check it, you'll see.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Draek (916851)

      It's not "a little better", it's:

      - available to be implemented by anyone and everyone without paying a cent or even asking for permission, with a BSD implementation available to all for free.

      vs

      - full of patents held by the big names of the industry, available under per-user licensing fees and any implementation not blessed by them exposes itself and anyone who uses it to big, very costly lawsuits in the US.

      And when we're talking about a proposed standard for the entirety of the world wide web, things like t

    • by xlotlu (1395639)

      Could somebody please explain to me why the license matters? I mean, I understand that if a license limits mpeg-4 encoding to a single government computer running Windows ME that was lost 5 years ago, that the license is a HUGE barrier to entry to use the codec. However, in this case the license seems to be the only single category in which Theora wins. The compression is worse than mpeg-4. The compression takes more space. But look! The license is a little better! WINNER!

      You understand quite wrong. After having paid (a small amount) for the encoder, if you decide to post your > 12 minutes clip on the web, you're likely gonna have to pay through your nose come 2011. And everybody that wants to watch it must have paid for the decoder (another small amount).

      The current H.264/MPEG-4 AV licensing is rather palatable, as they're trying to gain market share; decoders and encoders sold before 2005 were even spared any licensing fee. But this license expires at the end of 2010. S

    • by legirons (809082) on Monday June 22, 2009 @03:50PM (#28427551)

      Could somebody please explain to me why the license matters?

      Because $x per copy costs a lot when you're distributing an infinite number of copies, as most Free Software programs are.

  • ..although this is an 1.1alpha release of Theora..

    You say that as if it's against Theora. It's not -- otherwise they would have tested against a released version. There could well improvements in the various mpeg-4 codes if you dig around in developer repositories.

  • by RiotingPacifist (1228016) on Monday June 22, 2009 @02:44PM (#28426307)

    60% is bit of a price to pay, however IMHO the point of the video tag is tighter integration with your website than is easily achievable with flash. Hopefully theora will improve and compete with mpeg-4, but there are still many advantages to using it over flash for embedded video (for stand alone pages, it doesn't matter so much as most users have a plugin to handle mpeg-4)
    *Interacts with the rest of the page easily (TBF actionscript, et al can achieve this)
    *Much lower cpu usage. While flash is particularly bad, theora is particularly good
    *Cross architecture. As people browse the web on phones, pdas, etc, this does actually matter
    *Much less likely to be exploitable (TBF webhosts don't care, but users should)
    *Open standards.

    I don't think theora should be seen as simply a tool to replace flash videos but it should be seen as an opportunity to better integrate video into sites and/or make video content available to more people annoy people with video backgrounds

  • by diegocgteleline.es (653730) on Monday June 22, 2009 @02:47PM (#28426357)

    Dirac is supposed to be a great opensource, patent-free codec, yet nobody seems to care a lot about it in all those HTML5 video talks....

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      While the Dirac format is finished (and provides the baseline for VC-2), the encoders and decoders are still very new, and not as optimised quality-wise or performance-wise as they could be. It's got a way to go before widespread adoption, much as the first MPEG-4 ASP encoders were not very good until DivX ;-).

      There is of course nothing to stop you using both. The tag fully supports fallback (even allowing you to specify a flash video as a fallback if you want), and implementations appear fairly consistent

  • ffmpeg is known to have several encodng problems both and with theora.

  • by xiphmont (80732) on Monday June 22, 2009 @03:43PM (#28427375) Homepage

    Only one point I wanted to mention (since the article and comments have all been--- oddly balanced for Slashdot)

    The article points out that current Thusnelda is not as high quality as the best available h264 encoder at high bitrate video and unlimited encoding time. No argument there, it's true. Thusnelda still has a ways to go, despite the distance it's come; the current alpha still has no Adaptive Quant whatsoever, which will go in before final release.

    However, the vast majority of users are not using x264. If you look at the h264 YouTube encoder, which has been designed for speed rather than 'work as long as you like to optimize the output', suddenly Theora is exactly on-par. In short--- Theora is every bit as good as the way that the real world is going to end up using h264 for the forseeable future. And the users of that 'inferior' h264 encoder seem pretty happy with it.

    Anyway, this isn't disagreeing with anything you've said, it's simply a practical way to look at the difference.

    Monty

  • by mrmeval (662166) <mrmeval@gmail.cGINSBERGom minus poet> on Monday June 22, 2009 @08:25PM (#28432099) Journal

    Does anyone remember it? The author screwed up and coded parts of it on university time so had to revoke the GPL license since they could not prove which parts were or were not university property.

    I spent a month compressing a highly scaled video clip and was able to put about 20 seconds on a floppy. I could compress a complex jpeg with the static compressor into 4 - 20k.

    http://www.linuxjournal.com/article/4367 [linuxjournal.com]

    Bandwidth wise it's marvelous, it's the number crunching to compress it that's the killer. I'm not a coder and his paper is marginally comprehensible but there is no way I could recreate the codec.

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