Wednesday, August 13th, 2008

More on codecs: Apple’s view, and the BBC makes a move

Category: Sound, Standards

We just talked about codecs, and in particular the world of Ogg.

Mozilla came out supporting the format, and saying that we should see it in Firefox 3.1. Niall Kennedy then reminded me of a post, way back in time, by David Singer of Apple discussing the research that Apple did into Ogg:


The HTML5 specification contains new elements to allow the embedding
of audio and video, similar to the way that images have historically
been embedded in HTML. In contrast to today’s behavior, using
object, where the behavior can vary based on both the type of the
object and the browser, this allows for consistent attributes, DOM
behavior, accessibility management, and so on. It also can handle
the time-based nature of audio and video in a consistent way.

However, interoperability at the markup level does not ensure
interoperability for the user, unless there are commonly supported
formats for the video and audio encodings, and the file format
wrapper. For images there is no mandated format, but the widely
deployed solutions (PNG, JPEG/JFIF, GIF) mean that interoperability
is, in fact, achieved.


The problem is complicated by the IPR situation around audio and
video coding, combined with the W3C patent policy
. “W3C seeks to
issue Recommendations that can be implemented on a Royalty-Free (RF)
basis.” Note that much of the rest of the policy may not apply (as
it concerns the specifications developed at the W3C, not those that
are normatively referenced). However, it’s clear that at least
RF-decode is needed.

The major concerns were:

  • a number of large companies are concerned about the possible
    unintended entanglements of the open-source codecs; a ‘deep pockets’
    company deploying them may be subject to risk here;
  • the current MPEG codecs are currently licensed on a royalty-bearing basis;
  • this is also true of the older MPEG codecs; though their age suggests examining the lifetime of the patents;
  • and also SMPTE VC-1
  • H.263 and H.261 both have patent declarations at the ITU.
    However, it is probably worth examining the non-assert status of
    these, which parts of the specifications they apply to (e.g. H.263
    baseline or its enhancement annexes), and the age of the patents and
    their potential expiry.
  • This probably doesn’t have significant IPR risk, as its wide
    deployment in systems should have exposed any risk by now; but it
    hardly represents competitive compression.
  • Most proprietary codecs are licensed for payment, as that is the
    business of the companies who develop them.
  • So, there was worry. The BBC decided to try to solve this by creating Dirac, but they also just posted on Open Industry Standards For Audio & Video On The Web where they put their money behind H.264 and AAC:

    I believe that the time has come for the BBC to start adopting open standards such as H.264 and AAC for our audio and video services on the web. These technologies have matured enough to make them viable alternatives to other solutions.

    And then answer the obvious question on Dirac:

    Some people may ask: why are you not using your own Dirac codec? I am fully committed to the development and success of Dirac, but for now those efforts are focused on high-end broadcast applications. This autumn, we intend to show the world what can be achieved with these technologies.

    Something tells me that 2008 is going to be a fun one wrt the opening of codecs.

Posted by Dion Almaer at 7:16 am

3.5 rating from 11 votes


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One thing that is often forgotten: Theora is based on VP3 and as such has been out in the wild and in the hands of a possible lawsuit target for quite some time. Of course, with the US patent office’s wonderful work, there’s no chance to entirely rule out any problems, but the dual opensource/commerical history of Theora, combined with the research done by Xiph make it a relatively unlikely target for patent issues.

Comment by Hans Schmucker — August 13, 2008

H.264 & AAC are by no means ‘Open Standards’. You need a patent license to implement the encoding. Enough said.

Can’t help but to think that Apple’s “research” into Ogg is a really poor attempt. They’re at the end of the day worried about hidden patents so they say. However when governments provide searchable database of patents. This is hardly any excuse to not hire some patent expert to search for any patents that could affect Ogg. Especially from a “deep pocket” company like Apple.

I can’t help also but to think that Apple’s reluctance to adopt Ogg is somewhat also motivated by the fact that they’re the most Proprietory company in the world and they’re trying to get everyone on the boat on AAC.

There are some rediculously greedy and stupid people out there (Apple & BBC). At the end of the day for the developer world Ogg Vorbis should be embraced (until it’s ever provened to have associated patents), then should they suddenly ever come out with patents suits, sure a few big players would probably lose out a little, but for the developer world, we would simply create and adopt another patent-free codec until the time when we truely have a Open Standard codec.

Comment by skyro — August 13, 2008

The research Apple did on Ogg should have had the title: Looking for excuses not to adopt open standards.

I remember that couple of years back, there were attempts to start profiting on GIF and JPEG usage by webdesigner from the patent holders. PNG was the answer to those attempts, clearly stating: we do not need JPG and GIF that badly to be bullied around.

Apple has its own formats and wants to protect its own business model. That is understandable. Their formats are quite good and there is no reason for not adopting them. However, there should ALWAYS be a clear RF alternative, derived from HTML standards, just to be on the safe side.

Comment by OndraM — August 14, 2008

This post is entirely misleading.

The email does not contain “research Apple did into Ogg”. Basically all of those points are talking about the alternative options e.g. MPEG h.261 and 263 amongst others.

The bullet points in the email have letters attached, a) is Ogg Theora/Vorbis and only the first ‘concern’, also denoted with a) applies.

Also, related points since I just filled out a stupendously long form to correct this blatant mistake:

The link that the ex-Microsoft guy points to in support of his claim that AAC+ and H.264 are “open” contridicts his claim as they require patent fees.

Interestingly Vorbis is so clear of patent worries that a Sun project that goes to great lengths to develop a new video codec from scratch with no potential patent issues (link: is set to use it. It also tests well against AAC ( yet there seems to be very little talk about that compared with carping that the current Theora isn’t perfect.

Nokia’s main thrust, other than patent FUD, was that it needed DRM on web video to attract hollywood. Everyone else that just want to post cat videos is going to have to suffer it seems.

Comment by bawjaws — August 14, 2008

Full Disclosure: I am on the board of the Foundation and continue to serve on its board.

I agree with bawjaws that the emails does not contain any research at all that Apple may have done into Ogg. I imagine that if Apple has done any research, Dave Singer is not allowed to share it. This is instead a set of notes from a discussion that one of the W3C groups had as best I can tell.

It contains the age old anti-Ogg FUD that “a number of large companies are concerned about the possible unintended entanglements of the open-source codecs”. There is indeed a company or two concerned about this, the Foundation is one example. We spent a lot of time picking algorithms, doing research, and even got a patent search funded to get an official legal opinion. The Ogg team has done its work here and posts like these that continue to wave these vague accusations around are disrepectful to our efforts.

The fact is that many large companies ship Ogg codecs. Of course there are the obvious open source companies like RedHat and Canonical. But many well known commercial games also ship Ogg. Microsoft is one of these game publishers. Epic’s Unreal Engine has supported Vorbis and Speex for some time and has been shipped in numerous games. The list is pretty long if you actually look. Several hardware manufacturers also ship Ogg Vorbis capable players. Music software/hardware companies like Mackie and Steinberg ship Vorbis. Many of these companies have deep pockets.

The MP3 patents are due to expire soon anyway, so for audio this whole conversation is probably moot. After all, Ogg Vorbis is now 8+ years old. If people switch to a new standard in audio codecs, it will be for technical reasons like gapless playback, etc (most of which are probably solved by Ogg Vorbis).

Video is another story, and it is important that projects like Ogg Theora and Dirac try and pave the way for unencumbered media. Even almost a decade after we began our quest, multimedia formats on the Internet continue to be a real problem. These days it’s not as much of a problem of finding a legal encoder, but of interoperability and user experience.

Comment by metajack — August 17, 2008

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