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Examining the HTML 5 Video Codec Debate 459

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the we'll-cooperate-and-do-it-my-way dept.
Ars Technica has a great breakdown of the codec debate for the HTML 5 video element. Support for the new video element seems to be split into two main camps, Ogg Theora and H.264, and the inability to find a solution has HTML 5 spec editor Ian Hickson throwing in the towel. "Hickson outlined the positions of each major browser vendor and explained how the present impasse will influence the HTML 5 standard. Apple and Google favor H.264 while Mozilla and Opera favor Ogg Theora. Google intends to ship its browser with support for both codecs, which means that Apple is the only vendor that will not be supporting Ogg. 'After an inordinate amount of discussions, both in public and privately, on the situation regarding codecs for and in HTML5, I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that there is no suitable codec that all vendors are willing to implement and ship,' Hickson wrote. 'I have therefore removed the two subsections in the HTML5 spec in which codecs would have been required, and have instead left the matter undefined.'"
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Examining the HTML 5 Video Codec Debate

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  • It's a toughy (Score:5, Informative)

    by 91degrees (207121) on Monday July 06, 2009 @02:40PM (#28598535) Journal
    Do we use an inferior standard or a closed standard?

    Maybe "implementation dependent" is the term we're after.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Do we use an inferior standard or a closed standard?

      Since it seems pretty likely most web users couldn't care less about open vs. closed software, the answer seems obvious - go with h.264, the superior but closed codec. And do it now before Microsoft wades in and decides to muddy things up with more embrace/extend/extinguish shenanigans.

    • Re:It's a toughy (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Draek (916851) on Monday July 06, 2009 @03:05PM (#28598813)

      Inferior standard. Judging from HTML4, by the time we could safely drop HTML5 support from our web browsers there'll be at least a dozen codecs that perform far, *far* better than H.264 does today so alleged superiority buys us very little, there'll still be a time where people interested in performance ignore the standard altogether. On the other hand, H.264's patent concerns will be with us for the next ~20 years, so Theora's advantage in ease of implementation will likely hold up for a much longer time.

    • Re:It's a toughy (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Chabil Ha' (875116) on Monday July 06, 2009 @03:18PM (#28598989)

      Why the false dichotomy? The market had already voted long before W3C threw in the towel. Apple wasn't going to budge simply because its hardware platform was geared for h.264. It would render the hardware obsolete because now you have to run a software decoder for Theora, sapping the battery for processing that a dedicated, low power h.264 chip already does.

      The problem with the 'open standard' is not necessarily its inferiority, per se, but its complete, utter lack of general market acceptance.

  • Let the market decide. Too bad we've already been down that road and it wasn't pretty at all...
    • Re:Like Capitalism (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Chabil Ha' (875116) on Monday July 06, 2009 @03:23PM (#28599051)

      The market has already decided. But it wasn't decided because of software, it was decided on hardware. Theora does not have a dedicated hardware decoder that hardware makers can pull off the shelf and incorporate into their devices. h.264 does. And, when you take into consideration the sheer number of devices that have that chip installed (virtually every 5th generation iPod and forward from Apple) it becomes very easy to tell that h.264 was going to be the winner.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 06, 2009 @02:44PM (#28598577)

    Ars Technica has a great breakdown

    Oh, I totally agree. The best articles always insert two lolcats into their page so that we get a better idea of what's going on.

    Did I miss something or is it still 2006?

    • O rly?

      This is what made me click the link to TFA.

      Lolcats are still in, dude. They'll never go away. They'll enter the lexicon and become so ingrained that you only need the text, not the picture.

      (Ya rly)

  • by ibookdb (1199357) on Monday July 06, 2009 @02:44PM (#28598583) Homepage
    <video codec="blah"> and let the content providers decide.
    • by LordKronos (470910) on Monday July 06, 2009 @02:54PM (#28598689) Homepage

      Because otherwise you end up with the case that no one codec works in all browsers, so websites will have to support both formats by encoding all their videos twice. Instead, I suspect most website owners would just say "yeah....OR I could just keep doing it in flash and only worry about 1 format that can work in all browsers."

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by clone53421 (1310749)

      Because people shouldn't have to be prompted to install codecs in order to view in-browser videos.

      So you include the codecs with the browser. Since you don't want to include every codec known to man, you pick one. Or several, as the case may be...

  • Apple and Xiph (Score:5, Interesting)

    by _Hiro_ (151911) <hiromasaki&gmail,com> on Monday July 06, 2009 @02:45PM (#28598587) Homepage Journal

    It seems like Apple has something against implementing any Xiph codec... FLAC and Vorbis support in iTunes is nonexistent, and even with the QuickTime plugin, iTunes still doesn't have proper tagging support. And now refusing to add Theora support in Safari?

    Perhaps someone on the Xiph board did something to one of Apple's Media guys when they were kids or something?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Perhaps someone on the Xiph board did something to one of Apple's Media guys when they were kids or something?

      Apple simply does not like free codecs because if customers are allowed to use them, then the corporation loses some control over the customers. That's the reason why people should refuse to buy anything from Apple and other companies with similar attitude towards their customers.

      • Re:Apple and Xiph (Score:5, Insightful)

        by truthsearch (249536) on Monday July 06, 2009 @03:22PM (#28599043) Homepage Journal

        Apple uses open standards in their MobileMe / .Mac implementation. They also write standards-based server components, like CalDAV. Their platforms' preferred 3d library is OpenGL, another open standard.

        Clearly they support many open standards, so it's not just about control over their customers.

    • Re:Apple and Xiph (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 06, 2009 @03:05PM (#28598815)
      Regardless of why they have some hatred for Xiph who cares what Apple's doing? Just specify Ogg. Apple will either lose market share as people switch to a browser that doesn't suck or they'll cave and use Ogg. If you can get 3 of them to agree I'd say that's pretty good. Are we just going to stop bothering to innovate because Apple won't give us its blessing? Let's just rename Apple to "Microsoft" and call it a day.

      We (developers) are the ones that determine who wins the browser battles. We make the sites and we tell people what browser to use. FireFox didn't install itself on grandma's computer - that was us.
      • Re:Apple and Xiph (Score:5, Insightful)

        by 99BottlesOfBeerInMyF (813746) on Monday July 06, 2009 @03:19PM (#28599007)

        Regardless of why they have some hatred for Xiph who cares what Apple's doing?

        Ipod and iPhone owners care. Content providers looking to target iPod and iPhone owners care.

        Apple will either lose market share as people switch to a browser that doesn't suck or they'll cave and use Ogg.

        You're oversimplifying. This about more than just Web browsers. It is also about content services. When you don't have Google's Youtube on board with Ogg and you don't have iTunes on board with Ogg and it won't play on iPhones or iPods and you have little likelihood of that changing, specifying Ogg in the spec results in the spec not gaining widespread implementation and failing.

        Are we just going to stop bothering to innovate because Apple won't give us its blessing?

        Apple is one of the companies pushing HTML5 and already implements it in Safari. They aren't holding back progress so much as trying to push it in a different way than what Mozilla and Opera want.

        We (developers) are the ones that determine who wins the browser battles.

        I'd say the content providers have as much or more influence than browser developers. If the video element is implemented in a way content providers like iTunes and YouTube are not happy with, then it will be ignored by them and we''ll be stuck without any progress and a Web still locked into a fragmented mix and dominated by Flash video and Silverlight.

      • Re:Apple and Xiph (Score:5, Informative)

        by shutdown -p now (807394) on Monday July 06, 2009 @03:23PM (#28599049) Journal

        You misunderstand the nature of HTML5 standardization process. Unlike previous HTML iterations, which were designed by W3C committee which largely did not intersect with people who actually implemented it, HTML5 is a vendor-driven effort that had only recently came under the aegis of W3C (after the latter's XHTML 2.0 died a quick and painless death). Since it's vendor-driven, it's going to be exactly what the vendors can agree upon - no more, and no less.

      • Re:Apple and Xiph (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Evanisincontrol (830057) on Monday July 06, 2009 @03:51PM (#28599503)

        We (developers) are the ones that determine who wins the browser battles. We make the sites and we tell people what browser to use.

        Woah woah woah. That's a huge misconception that needs to be squashed right now: We, the content providers, do not tell the customer what browser to use; rather, the customer tells us what browser they're willing to use to view our content.

        Why do you think so many "IE6 approved" sites still exist? Because those website's operators desperately want people to continue using IE6? No, they do it because a very large number of people are still using IE6 and are going to continue using IE6 regardless of what browser we mighty developers to try "force" others to use.

        As someone else pointed out above, the problem with trying to hardball Apple into playing nice is that Apple will just sit and wait. When website developers go to create their sites and try to ensure cross-browser compatibility, their response to the problem will NOT be "Oh, Apple is just being douchebags. I'll just not bother supporting Safari until they support Theora." Instead, what they'll probably say is, "Hey, flash videos work in every browser. Why should I bother using this stupid VIDEO tag?"

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by benwaggoner (513209)

      It seems like Apple has something against implementing any Xiph codec... FLAC and Vorbis support in iTunes is nonexistent, and even with the QuickTime plugin, iTunes still doesn't have proper tagging support. And now refusing to add Theora support in Safari?

      No need for conspiracy theories. Theora doesn't solve any problems for Apple.

      Theora won't work in iPods, iPhones, or AppleTV.

      And Theora is less efficient than even H.264 baseline, and so would raise their (presumably quite substantial) bandwidth costs for delivering video content.

  • irrelevant (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 06, 2009 @02:45PM (#28598591)

    "Apple is the only vendor that will not be supporting Ogg"

    Except IE, which doesn't support, and has not announced plans to support, anything. Until they decide what they're going to do, it really doesn't matter what everyone else is doing.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Dan Ost (415913)

      Just watch. Once IE's market share hits 50%, suddenly Microsoft will start playing ball. The search revenue from all the IE users who don't bother to change the default search is too nice to simply give up.

    • Re:irrelevant (Score:5, Insightful)

      by nine-times (778537) <nine.times@gmail.com> on Monday July 06, 2009 @03:31PM (#28599165) Homepage

      Well it does matter, it's just that the matter is far from settled.

      Honestly, I think it is possible to overestimate the power of Microsoft's vendor lock-in. If they don't get in gear and really compete in the browser market, it's only a matter of time before it bites them in the ass. They've already lost of decent chunk of the market to these other browsers.

      If these browsers get to the point where they're all offering a clearly superior experience on the web, and Microsoft is still dragging their feet, they will eventually become irrelevant themselves.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Draek (916851)

        If these browsers get to the point where they're all offering a clearly superior experience on the web, and Microsoft is still dragging their feet, they will eventually become irrelevant themselves.

        Exactly. Which is precisely why Microsoft isn't doing anything, and probably won't. Apple's NIH syndrome and Google's bandwidth interests will prevent them from accepting Theora, Mozilla's legal and Opera's monetary problems with H.264 prevent them from accepting it in turn, and neither faction holds enough leverage over the web to 'win' here without Microsoft's support.

        End result? no single codec is picked as the standard, web developers ignore the video tag and continue relying on Flash, the status quo is

  • by glwtta (532858) on Monday July 06, 2009 @02:46PM (#28598599) Homepage
    Apple and Google favor H.264 while Mozilla and Opera favor Ogg Theora.

    Right, while convenient, that doesn't strike me as a very comprehensive list of "major browser vendors".
  • by Guspaz (556486) on Monday July 06, 2009 @02:46PM (#28598601)

    They could have simply specified that a browser must support ONE of the two options, h.264 or Theora. This would have at least provided a reference to websites, such that they can guarantee that they need support no more than two codecs. Without a standard, they can't necessarily guarantee that a browser will support either. A third party browser may come by and decide to implement nothing but MJPEG since it isn't specified.

    I mean, there are legitimate concerns in both camps. Theora's hardware support is non-existent, and h.264 has expensive licensing fees. So why not allow browser manufactuerers to pick the one that best suits their position, rather than leaving it undefined entirely?

    A guarantee of at least one of two being supported is better than no guarantee at all.

    • by samkass (174571) on Monday July 06, 2009 @03:05PM (#28598811) Homepage Journal

      HTML doesn't specify what image format must be supported (PNG, GIF, JPG, etc); why is video any different? If HTML had specified GIF explicitly up-front, we'd all be in trouble when UniSys became dicks about it.

      Let the market decide. If h.264 succeeds despite the extra cost, it means folks found enough value to justify the cost. If DivX or VC1 come out of nowhere to take over the web we won't be left with an out-dated standard. If a sleeper patent hits Theora hard we'll be glad we didn't lock ourselves down.

      • by ianare (1132971) on Monday July 06, 2009 @03:34PM (#28599235)

        That's a good point, but the bandwidth and storage requirements of images pale in comparison to video. I've had to make sites using GIF for IE6 and PNG for browsers that don't suck (to take advantage of the alpha channel). It was a PITA, but the extra storage requirements were not that big a deal. Doing the same with video would be much more of a problem, even with today's cheap storage.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Locutus (9039)

        you forgot this one, if a sleeper patent hits h.264, DivX, VC1, or any of the codecs then in every case it will have to be dealt with. Sorry, I just don't buy the bit about only one codec, the open source one, being subject to patent issues.

         

        LoB
         

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by John Whitley (6067)

      Theora's hardware support is non-existent

      Huh? Theora would have hardware support fired up within three blinks of its ratification as part of HTML5 and the release of browsers supporting it. For many (most? all?) instances, such "hardware" support is often implemented on DSP core(s), not a dedicated ASIC just for a specific codec, making the update just a matter of new firmware for existing systems.

      Allowing a "pick one" scenario means that third-party content providers have no freaking clue what format they can present their data in for their use

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      It's definitely a better option, but there is a catch - it means that content providers who want to reach the widest possible audience will need to encode video in H.264. And that means that they will need H.264 encoders, which are by definition non-free (since license fees must be payed for those).

      Now consider something like Wikipedia. Since videos are uploaded by the users, it would effectively require all of them to have licensed H.264 codecs to contribute - which is an unacceptable burden for a Free enc

  • Hardware Encoders (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Nate53085 (782588) on Monday July 06, 2009 @02:46PM (#28598607)
    The best reason I have seen so far as to why Apple/Google favor H.264 is because their current products have H.264 hardware encoders in them. Switching to ogg/theora would hit battery life hard in these devices since it would have to be done in software. While I agree that its a selfish reason, its a reason better then "cause we want it". I would really like to see Theora succeed though, an open standard for web would be a beautiful thing
  • Why does it care? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kindbud (90044) on Monday July 06, 2009 @02:47PM (#28598613) Homepage

    Really? Why does the HTML5 spec care what codecs are used? Why doesn't it just provide a way to specify which codec the author used to encode the media file, and let the browser prompt the user to get it if needed?

    • There can be only one!
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Curate (783077)
      Indeed, as was done for pictures using the tag. HTML didn't specify a particular file format. You could use .bmp, .ico, .gif, .jpg, etc. Why on Earth would you WANT to standardize on a particular file format and lose that flexibility? Better file formats will show up over time and certainly you'd like to be able to use tem. The good formats will stick and become de facto standards. The not so good formats will fall by the wayside.
      • Re:Why does it care? (Score:4, Informative)

        by JCSoRocks (1142053) on Monday July 06, 2009 @03:11PM (#28598911)
        Because you end up with the craptastic situation like IE6 where they sort of support PNG but not really because they don't support transparency. If there isn't universal browser support for a format it might as well not even exist / be an option because you can't use it. If you have to code for IE6 you can't use transparent PNGs can you? So what difference does it make that you can "use any format?"

        If we go this route with video what options are left? Stick with flash? Encode everything in two different codecs and *hope* that the browsers all support one of the two? I don't know about you but I think those options suck.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by weicco (645927)

          Img-tag doesn't specify which image formats you must or must not use so I really don't understand why video-tag should be any different. Video-tag could just instruct the browser that "put the video in here and fetch stream from here or if user has no ability to play the video display whatever is inside the alt-attribute".

          So when browser sees video-tag it renders it by using which ever video plugin or built-in mechanism is in use, be it Flash, Silverlight, Windows Media Player or whatever. Then it is up to

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            No, you don't know much about video codecs - or the browser wars.

            The huge headache everyone wants to avoid is content providers having to code around, and store duplicate copies of video, to cater to all the browsers.

            This is before you get into all the bullshit about codecs that are really rootkits and the like. You do not want your browser saying, "I cannot cope with the computationally intensive task to render this video without 'magic software' from goatse.cx".

      • Re:Why does it care? (Score:5, Informative)

        by shutdown -p now (807394) on Monday July 06, 2009 @03:27PM (#28599111) Journal

        The fear is that the "good format" in this case will be H.264, and once it will stick and become de facto standard, we'll have the same mess as with GIF all over again - since FOSS browsers won't be able to support it legally (at least in U.S.), nor free content creation/editing tools.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by muuh-gnu (894733)

      > Why does the HTML5 spec care what codecs are used?

      You somehow missed the whole discussion, didnt you? If a spec shouldnt care in what way content is encoded it is trying to show, what _should_ it actually care about?

      > Why doesn't it just provide a way to specify which codec the author used to encode the
      > media file, and let the browser prompt the user to get it if needed?

      And where should a free browser get a patented and thus non-free codec from? Or did you actually mean that a free browser shoul

    • by clone53421 (1310749) on Monday July 06, 2009 @03:17PM (#28598979) Journal

      At present, any time I'm surfing the Web and I get a popup telling me "You need to install 'X' to view this video", I assume it's a virus. I'd actually prefer to keep it that way... it's simple, at least.

  • XiphQT Components (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 06, 2009 @02:50PM (#28598643)

    http://xiph.org/quicktime/ [xiph.org]

    Adds support for Ogg Vorbis and Ogg Theora to QuickTime (which is used for nearly all media playback on OSX). Easy to install (but could be made easier easily - such as making into a .pkg), and makes Safari 4 work with <video> and Theora.

    Also, can we please stop whining about this in relation to the HTML5 spec? HTML has never specified file formats for media/objects (<img>, <object>) and it should *not* start now.

  • I'm not sure why we can't implement support for both or even more codecs. Can anyone tell me why this isn't possible?

    The way I figure it, if both is supported, and agreement to assist in implementing support for the other can be reached and as long as the spec is documented, adding the functionality to the browsers should be trivial to any group capable of creating and maintaining a modern browser. We could actually implement a plug in scheme that allows functionality to be snapped in on the fly.

    What am I m

  • apple, go fuck yourself.

    </flamebait>
  • by SuperKendall (25149) on Monday July 06, 2009 @03:18PM (#28598985)

    You can use a single block of HTML below to provide video for everyone using the new tag:

    Video For Everybody [camendesign.com]

    It works on older browsers too, falling back on built in players or even flash if it has to. You simply provide it one .mp4, and one .ogg file and it uses which is best.

    Don't let this bickering stop everyone from moving to the video tag as soon as possible, which may then see further solution on a final standard.

    I have to say though, the hardware support aspect to me makes h.264 support a must. I also think Apple should support ogg too, but Mozilla really needs to support this de-facto standard for video (it's not just Apple using this in hardware).

  • Not another time (Score:4, Informative)

    by kmike (31752) on Monday July 06, 2009 @03:36PM (#28599267)

    I could swear I already saw this a few days ago here, on Slashdot. And indeed:
    http://tech.slashdot.org/story/09/07/02/184251/Browser-Vendors-Force-W3C-To-Scrap-HTML-5-Codecs?from=rss [slashdot.org]

  • by Sloppy (14984) on Monday July 06, 2009 @07:04PM (#28601797) Homepage Journal

    ..isn't that Apple is holding things up. It's that they're holding things up because of lack of decoding hardware for a tiny device. Wait a minute, who the fucks watches video on a tiny screen?

    Developers, don't answer that. Yes, I know your handheld device can play the video. I'm sure you're very proud.

    I'm asking the users. Are there any? I know many iPods have shipped, but what are you people doing with them? You're watching video on them? Really?

    No, really: who the fuck is watching movies on a 3 inch screen? And if that's you, are you actually happy with it? When you want to watch some video, your first instinct is to reach for your battery-powered thingie?

    This obscure corner case is what is going to hold video back for everyone (including the desktop users and PVR users) for 20 years, until the patents expire?!

  • by Jeremy Visser (1205626) on Monday July 06, 2009 @09:37PM (#28603095) Homepage

    What interests me is the fact that in these discussions about Theora being an old and antiquated codec, nobody seems to know about Dirac [diracvideo.org], which is a modern video codec quite comparable to H.264 developed by the BBC.

    Dirac is specifically designed to be free in the sense we love, and they have specifically checked to make sure it doesn't violate any patents, etc.

    It is supported in recent versions of FFMPEG, and since VLC 0.9.2. Support for it is maturing quite fast, and I don't understand why Mozilla didn't include support for it in their HTML5 video implementation.

    Since Opera implements <video> with GStreamer, it should already support Dirac if you have the support installed.

  • Just use OGG (Score:3, Insightful)

    by swilver (617741) on Tuesday July 07, 2009 @06:26AM (#28605925)

    I see no problem. Apple doesn't want to support OGG, I couldn't care less. They'll come around eventually if it becomes popular.

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