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Google to Open Source the VP8 Codec 501

Posted by kdawson
from the floor-wax-and-dessert-topping dept.
Several readers noted Google's reported intention to open source the VP8 codec it acquired with On2 last February — as the FSF had urged. "HTML5 has the potential to capture the online video market from Flash by providing an open standard for web video — but only if everyone can agree on a codec. So far Adobe and Microsoft support H.264 because of the video quality, while Mozilla has been backing Ogg Theora because it's open source. Now it looks like Google might be able to end the squabble by making the VP8 codec it bought from On2 Technologies open source and giving everyone what they want: high-quality encoding that also happens to be open. Sure, Chrome and Firefox will support it. But can Google get Safari and IE on board?"
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Google to Open Source the VP8 Codec

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  • Hurrah! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by XanC (644172) on Monday April 12, 2010 @09:07PM (#31826180)

    We're all very quick to hit Google when they do something wrong. This one pretty clearly is "do no evil". Thanks Google!

    • by jgreco (1542031)

      The devil is in the details; open source is nice, but unencumbered is also extremely important. I'm cautiously optimistic that Google will take this and do something really positive, but we'll have to wait and see. If they are willing to provide royalty-free patent licensing for the technology, then that really would be fantastic.

    • Re:Hurrah! (Score:4, Funny)

      by MobileTatsu-NJG (946591) on Monday April 12, 2010 @09:23PM (#31826334)

      We're all very quick to hit Google when they do something wrong.

      We appear smarter when we find ways for good news to not be good news.

      "Neat! The product I have in my hands right now has a cool new feature!" "Yeah, but that other product you didn't buy because you didn't know about it or it didn't suit your needs had that feature months ago. (Score:5, Insightful)"

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by moosesocks (264553)

      Actually, this could have some bad effects -- it has the potential to fragment the online video market even further.

      There's now no way in hell that Mozilla will ever support h.264. Previously, h264 support for Firefox was basically inevitable because there was no way in hell that Theora was going to overtake h264 as the dominant format.

      That said, it's nice that we've got an open codec that's (supposedly) actually decent.

      • Re:Hurrah! (Score:4, Informative)

        by prockcore (543967) on Monday April 12, 2010 @09:39PM (#31826486)

        Previously, h264 support for Firefox was basically inevitable because there was no way in hell that Theora was going to overtake h264 as the dominant format.

        It certainly wasn't inevitable.. Mozilla has said again and again, there is absolutely no legal way to include h264 support in Firefox.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          They are full of shit. They can just use various media frameworks like GStreamer and leave it up to the end user/distro/whatever to provide codecs for it. They have however stated they are unwilling to do this because H.264 is Evil and Proprietary and they want everyone to use Theora, because it gives you Freedom, even if you have to put up with a vastly outdated codec with a horrible implementation and no hardware support (of course, users can't be allowed to make any such choices on their own; you're gonn

          • Re:Hurrah! (Score:5, Informative)

            by LingNoi (1066278) on Tuesday April 13, 2010 @12:18AM (#31827610)

            No one is forcing you to provide video in Theora. The idea is that you provide Theora as a fallback, the last resort. It doesn't matter if it's out dated or if H.264 is better quality. It's suppose to be the last resort. The video tag gives you the ability to specify different videos in case the browser can't load the first one you provided.

            H.264 is CPU intensive compared to Theora. Theora doesn't need hardware support because it's a simple codec which can be run in software even on mobile devices. Google is already sponsoring an effort [blogspot.com] to get the Theora codec running on ARM which makes this more practical. Theora even runs on IE via a java applet [flumotion.net] so it's widely supported compared to H.264.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by bhtooefr (649901)

          Sure there is.

          Firefox is licensed under GPL2, not GPL3, among its various licenses. So, they could put H.264 in Firefox.

          Those redistributing Firefox would need a license from MPEG LA, though, and that's why they don't want to do it.

          • by Bruce Perens (3872) * <bruce@perens.com> on Monday April 12, 2010 @11:28PM (#31827350) Homepage Journal

            The GPL is not the only reason that Firefox would decline to place an encumbered technology in their browser. However, you are incorrect in stating that GPL2 would allow this. Under the terms of GPL2 section 7, the only allowable patent license would be one that licenses all GPL software used by anyone, because the patent license you take may not restrict any of the GPL terms - like modification, and of course you can modify any GPL program into another GPL program.

            7. If, as a consequence of a court judgment or allegation of patent infringement or for any other reason (not limited to patent issues), conditions are imposed on you (whether by court order, agreement or otherwise) that contradict the conditions of this License, they do not excuse you from the conditions of this License.

      • by poetmatt (793785)

        not really. if they open source VP8, it'll be the default for everyone basically. That'd be cross platform, which is important.

        There was no way in hell that h264 was ever going to go into firefox. They said flat out it wasn't going to happen. I don't know where you even come up with such an idea?

      • I doubt that it changes the situation much(other than possibly increasing the number of systems not using h.264, if VP8 is superior to Theora and less obscure than Dirac).

        Mozilla doesn't really have a choice about not supporting h.264(directly at least). The legalities just won't work out. However, substantial uptake of h.264 is largely inevitable, which makes indirect support of h.264 in FF largely a foregone conclusion. Somebody, whether Mozilla or third party, was just going to hack out a mechanism th
    • While this is a good act, Do good != do no evil. The former is existential while the latter is universal.

      • by poetmatt (793785)

        so what? They're doing something really good here. Simple as that. That's a whole lot more than we can say for a lot of companies right now. Many don't even care about "doing good". Why argue semantics?

    • by vxice (1690200)
      I agree but they set the bar pretty high for themselves. As big of a company as they are they have the chance to do a lot of good or evil and they asked to be held to higher standards and we held them to higher standards.
  • Really good news (Score:4, Interesting)

    by shutdown -p now (807394) on Monday April 12, 2010 @09:10PM (#31826214) Journal

    Setting aside the fact that it's just rumors so far... if true, this is really great.

    I was generally more supportive of H.264 in this debate for purely pragmatical purposes, but if we can have a codec that is both free, and technically capable, it's a win-win all the way.

    Of course, there's still the battle to get it supported on hardware side. But then if Google truly backs it (rather than just dumping a tarball of source on the FOSS crowd), it might be dealt with much faster than how it goes for Theora now. Especially if, say, Google will push to make it supported on Android - the volume of devices is large enough that some established company can come up with a hardware decoding chip and make it profitable.

    As a side note - in retrospect, sounds like it's a good thing they didn't prematurely standardize on Theora...

    • They can back it by requiring hardware running Android and Chrome OS to support the codec in an adequate way that doesn't kill battery life.

    • Since they just started sponsoring some mobile Theora work, I would think they will do at least as much for VP8

    • by Joce640k (829181)

      H.264 has very heavy processing requirements - it barely works on netbooks and most handheld devices can't manage it.

      As a "web standard" it isn't going to work.

  • Does this help? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by _merlin (160982) on Monday April 12, 2010 @09:13PM (#31826234) Homepage Journal

    Open-sourcing it alone means next to nothing: there are open-source h.264 codecs. The community still can't use it without a thorough patent examination, a universal royalty-free patent license, and an indemnity guarantee.

    • True, but I doubt Google would do something as pointless as releasing the code, but not making it completely Free.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by mrsteveman1 (1010381)

      They also own the company that created it, and i presume that includes the patents they held, if any. If there are patents that Google now owns on VP8, it's possible those patents could be used defensively against other companies, but trolls are always a wild card.

    • Re:Does this help? (Score:5, Informative)

      by nine-times (778537) <nine.times@gmail.com> on Monday April 12, 2010 @09:50PM (#31826588) Homepage

      Well it's bad word choice in the article (and summary) to talk about "open source" when, you're right, the real issue is patents. However, every indication is that Google intends to release the codec under a royalty-free patent. From the Google press release [google.com] regarding the acquisition of On2:

      "Today video is an essential part of the web experience, and we believe high-quality video compression technology should be a part of the web platform," said Sundar Pichai, Vice President, Product Management, Google. "We are committed to innovation in video quality on the web, and we believe that On2's team and technology will help us further that goal."

      Now that's certainly not definitive, but this happened right after browsers started implementing the video tag, with everyone arguing about H264 vs. Theora. I think the subtext was pretty clear: Google intended to resolve the situation.

      What's more, the article says:

      ...with that release, Mozilla — maker of the Firefox browser — and Google Chrome are expected to also announce support for HTML5 video playback using the new open codec.

      Now Mozilla was the holdout with H264, so I can't imagine that they're on board if there will still be patent problems. I expect that when this is made official, you'll find that the patents have been licensed in a way that is irrevocably royalty-free. After all, Google doesn't need codec license money. The whole project might be worth it to them if it just makes it cheaper to run YouTube.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by steveha (103154)

      The community still can't use it without a thorough patent examination, a universal royalty-free patent license, and an indemnity guarantee.

      I suspect this is why Google has been so slow to announce their intentions: they have probably had lawyers combing through the IP, making sure that they didn't overlook anything.

      I don't know if they can do an indemnity guarantee. You don't even get an indemnity guarantee when you license H.264!

      But Google has deep pockets and would be the first target of any lawsuits ov

      • Re:Does this help? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by _merlin (160982) on Monday April 12, 2010 @10:44PM (#31827042) Homepage Journal

        But Google has deep pockets and would be the first target of any lawsuits over this. If they think VP8 is safe to release, they are probably right.

        Google most likely wouldn't be the first target of lawsuits over this because they have deep pockets. Notice Apple is suing HTC over alleged patent violations in Android, and not Google? Patent attacks are launched at the weakest target to establish a precedent; anyone wanting to fight over VP8 would go for the implementer with the least/cheapest lawyers.

        That's why it was a big deal that IBM offered you patent indemnity for AIX and Sun offered the same for Solaris - it's like saying, "If SCO sues you, our lawyers will defend you." I see nothing similar for video codecs, not with h.264, not with Theora and not with VP8.

  • by etymxris (121288)

    Firefox has already committed to supported theora natively. Are they going to dump that now that VP8 is open? Or are they going to support two codecs now? That would just recreate the problem an open source VP8 was meant to solve.

    More problematically, patents. I doubt most people owning h264 patents want an open source competitor, and the media companies are probably more comfortable with an IP protected media format. Google has a lot of money, but patent battles could carry on for years and put the ubiquit

    • Assuming that they are as satisfied with the patent situation on VP8 as they are on Theora, and an OSS implementation is available, I'd assume that they will support two codecs.

      A given browser supporting more than one codec isn't "fragmentation" in any serious way(gosh, FF supports at least four image formats, and that doesn't seem to have killed anybody). The danger is when different browsers support only disjoint sets of codecs. VP8 seems likely neither to be of much danger nor of much help on that sco
  • Codecs (Score:4, Interesting)

    by AndrewStephens (815287) on Monday April 12, 2010 @09:17PM (#31826276) Homepage

    So now instead of two incompatible codecs for HTML5 video, we will have three? Great!

    The only way this will really take off is if Google starts serving up youtube in VP8 to clients that request it. I am not saying that options are bad, and its nice the Google has released this code, but HTML5 video is already hampered by competing standards and this doesn't help.

    As far as HTML5 video goes, it doesn't matter so much if the technically "best" codec gets used, so long as a single format is standardised to a large degree. There are better ways of storing photos than JPG, but that's what browsers use and nobody complains. There are better ways of storing video than Theora and everybody bitches about it. I hope it gets sorted out soon one way or another - HTML5 audio is in the same boat.

    • One interesting thing about html5 video is you can have fall backs, ie the video in ogg, the video in mp4 and the video in another codec in the same tag.
      So if you want to do it right you re-encode in all formats and everyone gets to use the codec they want.

      The disadvantage is you need more disk space, but really how expensive is that?

      • Yes, you can re-encode the files you want to serve multiple times (I do this for the audio files on my site) but this is a real pain in the neck. It's bad enough doing it twice - are we going to have to re-encode everything three times now? Even worse is if you do not have access to the original raw file - if you only have an h264 encoded file, re-encoding it to theora or VP8 is going to look terrible.

        Put it this way: back in the day before Flash video became popular some sites used Quicktime for video, som

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Ilgaz (86384)

          "Put it this way: back in the day before Flash video became popular some sites used Quicktime for video, some used Real, and some used WMV. "

          Now, all those players are simply using mpeg4 standard one way or another. Even Real switched to H264/AAC+, they just did some tweaks. Oh WMV uses VC1 and I bet H264 is there very soon as MS made clear with Silverlight.

          People just don't get how a great thing H264 served and how much it is liked by industry themselves. The container may change but H264 is there to stay,

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Kitkoan (1719118)

      So now instead of two incompatible codecs for HTML5 video, we will have three? Great!

      The only way this will really take off is if Google starts serving up youtube in VP8 to clients that request it. I am not saying that options are bad, and its nice the Google has released this code, but HTML5 video is already hampered by competing standards and this doesn't help.

      Well since Google does own Youtube.com which was the most used online video site that I'm aware of, and if they make all videos re-coded on site or equivalent to VP8, then this could get real interesting. A lot of weight there to throw around in the online video field.

    • by Minwee (522556)
      This could be almost as bad as when there were three different incompatible ways of transmitting images on the web, JPEG, GIF and PNG. Man, I remember spending years not being able to see a single picture because of that...
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Do you also remember what a pain it was when some browsers (IE) didn't support PNG while others (Firefox, etc) had good support. That made no-one happy.

        Now imagine if IE only supported GIF and Firefox only support PNG, with no universal fallback that they both could view. That is the situation with audio and video in HTML5.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by nine-times (778537)

      There are better ways of storing photos than JPG, but that's what browsers use and nobody complains.

      Er... we have multiple incompatible graphic formats on web pages, and nobody says much about it anymore. Once upon the time, people were concerned about GIF vs. JPEG vs. PNG, and now it's apparently such a non-issue that you don't even realize that web pages aren't all using JPEG.

      HTML5 doesn't necessarily need to standardize on a single format. You're confusing the issue. It's not about forcing everyone to use the same format, it's about having some selection of high-quality formats (or at least 1) that

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Er... we have multiple incompatible graphic formats on web pages, and nobody says much about it anymore. Once upon the time, people were concerned about GIF vs. JPEG vs. PNG, and now it's apparently such a non-issue that you don't even realize that web pages aren't all using JPEG.

        For a start, GIF and PNG are used quite differently to JPEG - there are good reasons why multiple image formats exist. All videos are pretty much the same, unless someone comes up with a codec for low-colour animation or something.

  • This is just what I asked for [slashdot.org] the other day when there was news that Google was supporting optimizing Theora, which is based on VP3. Way to go Google!
  • According to 3 [w3schools.com]different [netmarketshare.com] browser [statcounter.com] stat usage, Safari and Chrome are too tiny a market to consider. Which means its more likely to be a battle between Google/Firefox and Microsoft more then anything.
  • ENCODERS IDOTS ! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by johnjones (14274) on Monday April 12, 2010 @09:35PM (#31826448) Homepage Journal

    its all about the encoders !

    google can quite easily make reference but until there is High quality encoders then its pretty pointless

    making decoder plugins for IE and mac is actually pretty easy in comparison

    hardware reference designes need to be seeded also to the likes of TI and STMicroelectronics before it will even start to be useful after all where do all the camera's now do mp4 come from...

    its all about the encoders !

    regards

    John Jones

  • Not a surprise (Score:5, Interesting)

    by steveha (103154) on Monday April 12, 2010 @09:48PM (#31826552) Homepage

    The amount of money that Google paid for On2 was pocket change by Google standards. And the amount of money that On2 made every year was in the noise level by Google standards. So it never seemed likely to me that Google bought On2 with the intention of selling codecs for money.

    If VP8 really is as good as On2 claimed, Google could save some pretty good money by serving up YouTube videos in VP8 format instead of H264. And even better, Google would not have to worry about the H.264 patent owners changing the rates or changing the rules. So it really would be in Google's best interest if all of the YouTube users were able to view content in VP8. But given the head start of H.264 in the market, the only possible way for Google to get everyone to use VP8 would be to release it for free.

    I'm happy about this. This is just a win/win for everyone. If VP8 is decently competitive with H.264, and it is completely free, then as shutdown -p now commented [slashdot.org], there is no longer any need to choose between good compression and free software. Everyone can have both!

    steveha

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Stan Vassilev (939229)

      If VP8 really is as good as On2 claimed, Google could save some pretty good money by serving up YouTube videos in VP8 format instead of H264. And even better, Google would not have to worry about the H.264 patent owners changing the rates or changing the rules.

      I don't think Google really wants to re-encode their entire YouTube catalog in yet another codec, but V8 serves a very particular role in this picture.

      Google is basically keeping ISO/IEC MPEG in check by basically stating "if you do something stupid, we'll do everything possible to use V8 to make your life harder". So we may see some PR work and posturing, and V8 will likely end up in Google Chrome as well.

      Whether everyone will jump to using V8 is still questionable at this point. But having it around will

  • Was this decision taken after the urge of FSF or they had it in their plans? I think the lobbying and urging by FSF to a corporate like Google seems somewhat undignified, at least to me. This act seems of higher quality and nature, be whatever its motivations are.

    But yeah, I would be curious to know from the Google Insiders as how much of FSF urging help?

    • by belg4mit (152620)

      >I think the lobbying and urging by FSF to a corporate like Google seems somewhat undignified, at least to me.

      Why? If corporations get to lobby government, which is supposed to be of and by the *people*, and
      non-profits can do so as well, why can't a non-profit lobby a corporation? Compare a (call to) boycott.

  • by abhishekupadhya (1228010) on Monday April 12, 2010 @09:55PM (#31826640)
    that's all.
  • Safari and IE? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Alex Belits (437) * on Monday April 12, 2010 @10:06PM (#31826734) Homepage

    But can Google get Safari and IE on board?

    What?

    Just make it the default format for Youtube, and everyone will include it, just to get rid of Flash. Apple hates Adobe, and Microsoft merely dislikes it, so no tears are going to be shed.

  • Just need flash (Score:3, Interesting)

    by SlightOverdose (689181) on Monday April 12, 2010 @11:45PM (#31827454)

    > Sure, Chrome and Firefox will support it. But can Google get Safari and IE on board?"

    They don't have to- they just need to convince Adobe to get on board and they are set. Web Developers will be able to have a Flash fallback without needing to re-encode their videos

  • by gig (78408) on Tuesday April 13, 2010 @12:31AM (#31827682)

    H.264 is in *everything*, even Flash. It's in all the hardware, from smartphones to PC GPU's. Camcorders make it. It's on Blu-Ray and iTunes and YouTube.

    This move with VP8 is likely to keep MPEG licensing free from 2016 through the expiration of the patents. It's not going to displace H.264, though. Even if everyone in the world agreed to replace H.264, it would take a decade or more. Even if you don't know it, most of the post-DVD video you've watched was H.264.

  • by LostMyBeaver (1226054) on Tuesday April 13, 2010 @01:25AM (#31828054)
    This is one of those things which gets me fuming more than the video tag being the most poorly thought out design issue ever on the web.

    Apple delivers video through the Quicktime architecture and Microsoft delivers video either through DirectShow or MediaFoundation. These frameworks are pluggable and CODECs can be easily installed on these platforms.

    What is missing is a method of delivering the CODECs to the users. Google can make the CODEC part of Google Toolbar, Google Desktop, Google Earth, etc... there are countless ways in which Google can proliferate the CODEC to the consumer. The real issue comes in mobile devices. Delivering to the Microsoft and Apple phones. On the desktop, the CODEC issue is already taken care of.

    As for supporting the VP8 CODEC on iPhone, I don't recall seeing anything that specifically bans third party CODECs on the phone itself. In fact, given that the hardware encoder in slingbox appears to be either WMV9 or VC-1 (I haven't verified it, but I read it somewhere), SlingPlayer for iPhone almost certainly is delivering a 3rd party CODEC to the device. It might simply be an issue of making a new player that triggers on VP8 media.

    As for the Microsoft phone, it's both easier and harder. I have implemented low complexity CODECs in .NET in the past, but nothing with as much complexity as VP8. H.261 works with minimal CPU consumption on .NET. I've also implemented much of H.262 with little additional overhead. With the exception of the more expensive prediction methods which are definitely points where highly optimized code is beneficial, CODECs with the complexity of H.264 and VP8 should be doable.

    My greatest dreams at the moment is Microsoft implementing vectorization extensions in .NET and I know it's supposedly scheduled, but cross platform vectorization frameworks are EXTREMELY complex. And to avoid them ending up with a piece of crap VM design like Java's, I'm truly hoping they'll delay the feature until they get it right.

    All said and done, VP8 can be proliferated pretty easily. At least for a company like Google who has both the means to implement it as well as the means to deploy it.
  • PSNR Graphs (Score:5, Interesting)

    by CSFFlame (761318) on Tuesday April 13, 2010 @01:32AM (#31828094)
    http://www.on2.com/index.php?603 [on2.com] I found them on on2's site. I assume those VP8s are at maximum quality, but if those are real, and this is fully open sourced, Theora AND H264 are in for a beating. I imagine that this will replace a lot of the internet... video if it's really that good.

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