Monday, August 11th, 2008

Do you want some Ogg in your <video> or <audio>?

Codecs. Codecs. Codecs. Having <video> and <audio> tags in HTML 5 is great and all, but what formats can be played?

If you want something that everyone could play (everyone == not just people who pay the MPEG licenses) what do you have left? Ogg? Some argue about the quality of Ogg, and others play the fear card (holy law suit batman).

Robert O’Callahan of Mozilla puts it out there in his post on why Ogg matters.

He covers a few questions, starting with:

Why would Firefox want to ship this?

Our goal is to enable unencumbered, royalty-free, open-source friendly audio and video playback on the Web. Shipping Vorbis and Theora will achieve that for over 100M Firefox users — not everyone yet, but a good start! To reach the rest, we will keep turning people into Firefox users, and pressure Apple, Microsoft and other vendors to support Vorbis and Theora. Vendor pressure must come from content providers dedicated to making compelling content available in free formats (coupled with a superior playback experience in Firefox). Wikimedia has stepped up and hopefully others will follow.

In fact, we’d love to be able to ship open-source codecs for H.264 and VC-1, but that can’t happen until the MPEG LA’s patents expire, or MPEG LA decides to give up its patent licensing fees, or software patents are struck down by the US Supreme Court (and possibly other jurisdictions). It would be unwise to wait.

Aren’t the Ogg formats inferior?

Theora isn’t bad on an absolute scale — look at some demos to see for yourself. There is ongoing work to improve the encoder so it’s even better. Even if it’s slightly lower quality than H.264 at some bit rates, it’s still going to be very useful to people who favour free formats on principle, or who need an open-source solution, or who want a solution that Just Works across platforms without plugins, or who just want a solution without licensing fees — for example, if you just want a convenient way to use a video clip in a Web app. Look at modern bank ATM interfaces, for example, to get an idea of what people could be doing in Web apps.

Isn’t a plugin enough?

Because the value to content providers and the pressure on other vendors depend entirely on these codecs being available to a lot of users — and most users don’t download codec plugins.

This is a great example of why Mozilla and Firefox are important. The Web needs a high-market-share browser vendor committed to free software and open standards across the board.

And finally, the big one:

Will you get your pants sued off?

We’ve taken legal advice. I don’t know if we will talk about the results, but our actions speak loudly enough. Cutting Ogg support remains as a last-resort option.

We got a few comments about the new Open Web Podcast asking for an OGG format, so here it is.

Posted by Dion Almaer at 5:26 am
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An integrated video format is badly needed, even if bitrates are slightly higher than h264. Right now we have a situation were the only real “standard”, as in what we can expect to find on a normal user’s machine is part of a rather large framework that cannot be implemented easily by software and hardware developers. Part of why YouTube is also relevant on mobile platforms is that the videos, while usually shown through Flash on the desktop, can also be played independently of Flash by standalone software (CorePlayer, Kinoma…). That’s a workaround for sites like YouTube, that justify development and installing dedicated applications, but it doesn’t work for content that the user wants to see when he just stumbles upon a webpage. So everyone other than Google is pretty much out of luck when it comes to platforms that don’t support Flash… and there are still quite a few… mobilephones, game consoles (yes, the PS3 supports flash, but not the most recent version) and generally embedded devices.

Theora is just be the alternative we need… it can easily be implemented on any platform because it’s “just” a set of codecs and container formats and not a huge framework. While I don’t think that we can afford to leave out Flash video anytime soon, Theora will be there for everybody else.

Comment by Hans Schmucker — August 11, 2008

I don’t really care much about this subject, but I am curious why comments are disabled on the CSS post. What kind of huge controversy are you avoiding?

Comment by eyelidlessness — August 11, 2008

What’s wrong with the BBC’s Dirac codec?

Comment by pd — August 11, 2008

I don’t think there are any mature, portable and fast Dirac implementations around… of course I could be wrong

Comment by Hans Schmucker — August 12, 2008

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