HTML5 was heralded as the end to flash video on the web thanks to its support for embedded video content, however, due to disagreements over video codecs developers still don’t have an agreed standard to use. For a while it did seem that most companies were united behind the H.264 codec which offered extensive hardware support and was being included in Windows 7 and Apple’s OSX.
Critics of H.264 claim that it is not free to use, it is not open source and developers may end up paying for its use in the future. This in part led to Google’s launch of its open source VP8 video codec that it acquired when it purchased a company called On2. This was to form part of a new format called WebM.
Google has tried to push the adoption of WebM, even dropping support for H.264 from its Chrome browser. This was despite (or perhaps because of?) the fact that H.264 was becoming the most widely adopted format. Licencing concerns over H.264 were also somewhat allayed by the MPEG-LA, who made H.264 royalty-free as long as it is freely distributed. Many believed that the move by Google was simply a ploy to try and force people to adopt WebM so as to give them greater control over media on the internet.
Nokia have thrown a spanner in the works for Google, however, having submitted a paper to the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) that lists 86 patents, both approved and pending, that it will not donate to the IETF standard for VP8. Nokia also won’t be offering FRAND access to those patents for the codec. Nokia claim that they support “open and collaborative efforts for standardization”, but Google’s VP8 does not qualify as open. They go further accusing Google of ‘forcing’ VP8 video codec on the world.
Their full statement reads:
“We are now witnessing one company attempting to force the adoption of its proprietary technology, which offers no advantages over existing, widely deployed standards such as H.264 and infringes Nokia’s intellectual property. As a result, we have taken the unusual step of declaring to the Internet Engineering Task Force that we are not prepared to license any Nokia patents which may be needed to implement its RFC6386 specification for VP8, or for derivative codecs.”
Clearly Nokia feel that WebM and VP8 are not as open or free as Google would like people to believe and that there are better alternatives, namely H.264.
What this means for developers is that there will be plenty more wrangling, legal and otherwise, before a standard of web video can be used. For consumers it may also mean having to download separate plugins, VP8 for Internet Explorer and Safari, H.264 for Chrome, in order to view video on the web. In other words, everyone suffers.
Thanks for reading,