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Google to Open Source the VP8 Codec 501

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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  • Really good news (Score:4, Interesting)

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

  • Codecs (Score:4, Interesting)

    by AndrewStephens ( 815287 ) on Monday April 12, 2010 @10:17PM (#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.

  • Re:Yeah, but... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mrsteveman1 ( 1010381 ) on Monday April 12, 2010 @10:19PM (#31826286)

    According to some things i read the other day, the hardware support for h.264 is really just a programmable DSP in most cases, so they could program support for VP8 if it were being seriously considered, and that appears to be the direction of things.

  • I don't like it (Score:1, Interesting)

    by BadAnalogyGuy ( 945258 ) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Monday April 12, 2010 @10:27PM (#31826380)

    There are two types of Free Software, and it has a direct analog in government vs private sector.

    The first type is infrastructure. This is operating systems, compilers, networking protocol stacks, and other things that should be standardized. Sure, you could implement your own, but only at the risk of losing interoperability and compatibility with most other systems.

    The second type of Free Software is everything else. Apps, tools, graphics subsystems, and the types of things that people should and do constantly dream up and implement. These things require competition to grow and innovate.

    However the problem I see is that a video codec is not an infrastructure type of software. It is one among many competing software tools. By entering this On2 codec into the open like this, Google has essentially locked out any other competing codec since content creators will mostly only support the most widely available codec.

    By introducing a codec as an infrastructure type software, we lose the crucial competition that improves the ecosystem for everyone.

  • Not a surprise (Score:5, Interesting)

    by steveha ( 103154 ) on Monday April 12, 2010 @10:48PM (#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!


  • by Phoe6 ( 705194 ) on Monday April 12, 2010 @10:49PM (#31826566) Homepage Journal

    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?

  • Re:Codecs (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Kitkoan ( 1719118 ) on Monday April 12, 2010 @11:00PM (#31826684)

    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.

  • Re:I don't like it (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Monday April 12, 2010 @11:02PM (#31826706) Journal
    I think that your position is flawed in two major respects:

    One, codecs are, largely, infrastructure type software. They exist to do the unsexy-but-necessary job of getting content from point A to devices B, C, and D as effficiently and quietly as possible. Like networking protocols, interoperability and standardization are key, you want to be able to release a video and have it Just Work, no matter the end software or device, the same way that you can pretty much assume that any modestly sophisticated computer will speak TCP/IP correctly enough. Performance counts, since bandwidth and disk space, and battery life are all not free; but, as with operating systems, "compatible" generally beats "superior". Also of note, competition and growth do occur among infrastructure software, they just tend to be strongly shaped by the value of compatibility, and so growth and change tend to come about either through backwards-compatible evolutionary shifts, or through sudden, swift changes.

    Two, there isn't much evidence supporting the thesis that FOSS destroys competition. It does tend to drive down prices(and, to be fair, it is quite possible that it destroys the role of the "proprietary-but-cheap 2nd or 3rd string player", either replacing it with free software, or with the services of "free as in freedom but not as in beer" software integrators and consultants); but, even in markets where the price is basically zero, you can usually find, at the very least, several FOSS projects duelling for users. Quite a few markets don't even go that far. If anything, by providing a solid baseline, they force proprietary vendors to compete harder.

    In the specific case of video codecs, the proprietary market was already largely uncompetitive before Google showed up. Everything was either h.264(or very close variants, like VC-1), at the mercy of the giant-pool-o'-MPEG-LA-patents, or various more or less obscure legacy crap.
  • by Kitkoan ( 1719118 ) on Monday April 12, 2010 @11:03PM (#31826714)
    More people still use a computer to use the internet then a smartphone. Main reason my friends do is because smartphones are expensive to replace when broken from an angry call/breakup on the phone or lost in the bar. So they get the cheap cellphones since they are cheap to replace in those incidents. Don't break a laptop/desktop in those kinds of anger fits or lose them in the bar.
  • Re:I don't like it (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mR.bRiGhTsId3 ( 1196765 ) on Monday April 12, 2010 @11:04PM (#31826728)
    Consider the flipside, designing a codec is Really Hard Work. Google also has Really Deep Pockets. By doing this they have effectively dumped a codec that is good enough onto the market. While part of me is cheering that Google is taking one of the team in terms of opening their codec up they have basically ensured that only someone else with equally deep pockets has the time and money to engineer something so clearly better that they can recoup the time investment by surpassing VP8.
  • Safari and IE? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Alex Belits ( 437 ) * on Monday April 12, 2010 @11:06PM (#31826734) Homepage

    But can Google get Safari and IE on board?


    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.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 12, 2010 @11:21PM (#31826870)

    Has everyone forgotten who is responsible for the Web browser ballot in Windows 7 in the European Union? Opera! The point is, Opera gets results for the benefit of everyone. If only they patented tabbed browsing...

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

    by _merlin ( 160982 ) on Monday April 12, 2010 @11:44PM (#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 Bent Spoke ( 972429 ) on Tuesday April 13, 2010 @12:14AM (#31827234)

    Yeah their licensing terms could change,...

    Did you ever consider that maybe this is googles goal? Just the treat of VP8 could be enough to force h.264 to change to a less restrictive licence...

  • Re:Codecs (Score:3, Interesting)

    by nine-times ( 778537 ) <nine.times@gmail.com> on Tuesday April 13, 2010 @12:15AM (#31827252) Homepage

    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 everyone can use everywhere, including devices like set-top boxes and mobile phones.

    Out of curiosity, what are these better ways of storing photos than JPEG, and in which ways are they better?

  • Just need flash (Score:3, Interesting)

    by SlightOverdose ( 689181 ) on Tuesday April 13, 2010 @12:45AM (#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

  • Re:Not a surprise (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Blazewardog ( 1339197 ) on Tuesday April 13, 2010 @12:56AM (#31827520)
    On2 claimed VP8 had a 50% edge on H.264 in 2008. This sounds amazing until you consider that since that time, x264 (which Google uses for Youtube) has had around a 30% improvement in its own compression. This 50% advantage is now down to 20% only. To get this advantage Google would still have to re-encode all videos on Youtube which will take lots of CPU time and on top of that, H.264 has a far wider penetration with decoders. Unless the VP8 encoder is going to get serious work like x264, VP8 won't take off nearly as fast as many people think.
  • Re:coffin? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by chdig ( 1050302 ) on Tuesday April 13, 2010 @12:56AM (#31827524)
    You're both wrong. It lasted so long because it was so advanced when it came out, that it took years for any competition to form, hence reason to be replaced by micro$oft. I know, I know, you don't like to hear it, but there were some real dark netscape days there for a long time, while IE6 allowed AJAX-type programming from back from back in 2001.

    By its end it was long in the tooth, and lacked key features of the likes of Firefox, but back then it opened up a lot of new possibilities for a web developer. Look at the past 3 years: Windows still comes installed with IE, but a lot of people are using firefox, safari, or chrome, because they're as good or better, and offer real competition that was completely non-existant in 2003.

    In a way, by taking so long with IE7, microsoft did us a favour by allowing vibrant competition in the browser market (yes, I am someone that doesn't touch IE unless I absolutely need to)
  • Re:Codecs (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Ilgaz ( 86384 ) on Tuesday April 13, 2010 @12:59AM (#31827542) Homepage

    "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, Google is really a bit late to the party. The devices are already produced,shipped and people have set their stuff up. VP guys did a huge mistake by not opening the codec themselves, back in MPEG4-SP days.

  • Re:I don't like it (Score:2, Interesting)

    by jmorris42 ( 1458 ) * <jmorris@[ ]u.org ['bea' in gap]> on Tuesday April 13, 2010 @01:52AM (#31827822)

    > Considering that H.264 is used in Blu-rays, ATSC, DVB-T/DVB-S2, video streaming services like Netflix
    > and of course, sites like YouTube, I don't think H.264 will go away anytime soon.

    BLuRay doesn't matter, it is a closed universe. And most current titles use VC-1 and old ones used MPEG-2, not H.264. ATSC is strictly MPEG-2 based. Some DVB might have added H.264 in addition to MPEG-2 but when they launched they were also just MPEG-2. So if they support two or three codecs already getting another phased in over the next couple of years shouldn't be a problem... if they even need to. Netflix will use whatever is deployed as they aren't any sort of standard and don't really have dependencies on much physical hardware yet.

    No, H.264 as a format that isn't just encapsulated in some other locked DRM hell like Flash, the Netflix player, a cable company settop box, etc. is almost entirely an Apple only thing at this point. If we can keep it there we might be able to defeat it. Remember that most 'hardware solutions' that matter right now are just ARM cpus with a DSP and those are totally programmable to add new codecs. The little mini-PCIe decoders from Broadcom might be SOL, don't know how much is hard coded vs DSP code downloaded by the device driver.

  • by LostMyBeaver ( 1226054 ) on Tuesday April 13, 2010 @02:25AM (#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 @02:32AM (#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.
  • Re:I don't like it (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Oddscurity ( 1035974 ) * on Tuesday April 13, 2010 @02:48AM (#31828192)

    Compared to the original On2 codec? It has. Who says the same same can't be replicated with VP8?

  • Re:I don't like it (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 13, 2010 @08:41AM (#31830162)

    Ogg Theora is free(in all the ways that matter, shut up Theo), but you'll never get native support for it from Microsoft.

    I assume you're talking about Theo de Raadt? Could you please provide a source for what he said about Theora? I can't find a single comment from him on this matter.

    You know, putting words in someone's mouth doesn't help your argument.

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