Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

Why open video matters, and what we are trying to do about it

Category: Video

Disclosure: Yup, still work for Mozilla!

Chris Blizzard has a really nice look at why he thinks open video matters, and some of the steps that Mozilla is taking to help get it there. We all know that this is a huge, incredibly tough problem, but you gotta do something!

First, the why:

Everyone agrees that the open web is becoming more important in our shared human experience. Our applications, conversations and relationships are moving online and Mozilla finds itself more and more at the heart of defining both the underlying technology and the end-user experience of users of the web. It’s an important role to have, and it’s one of the reasons why operating as a non-profit with a full understanding of our mission and impact are important.

Taking the long view, the open web as a technology platform isn’t something that we see in human history very often. The printing press let you replicate knowledge cheaply and easily. Television and radio lowered the cost of distribution of media. The web took away the centralization of big media and anyone can produce and distribute. The costs of replication, distribution and reaction have dropped to near zero.

I personally believe that this is because of the technology choices that were made in the early days of the evolution of the web. Human-readable formats for documents, simple programs delivered as source code and the ability for anyone to be able to post and create. There were no ivory towers or professional developers in those early days so the act of creation had to be simple. Web technology required you to be technical-minded, but didn’t require huge amounts of training to get started. Mixed with the end-to-end principle of the Internet and the fact that just about anyone could set up a server or a client meant that the web didn’t grow with the backing of huge players, but became a huge shared collection based on the small efforts of thousands of individuals.

The result of that has been an explosion of creativity and investment from single individuals all the way up to the largest companies. Anyone can have an impact and anyone can affect the technology direction of the web. Because anyone can build tools without permission that speak the lingua franca of the web, you can find tools to do just about anything. It’s a truly vibrant marketplace.

There’s one exception to this: video on the web.

And, then we get to what Mozilla is trying to do (other organizations are doing good work here too, and I hope to see some big boys step up in interesting ways):

  • In Firefox 3.1 we’re including support for the OGG container format with the Theora video and Vorbis audio codecs for the <video> element.  They represent one of the few combinations of formats that fits both the criteria above.  They aren’t perfect formats, but they are certainly good enough for how video is used on the web today.  And they are improving with time.
  • We’re also supporting the development of open video with a grant of $100,000 (USD) grant that will be administered by the Wikimedia Foundation to develop and support Theora.  You should expect to see some really great stuff coming out of that funding.  That work will make its way back into Firefox as well.
  • The other thing we’re able to do is to make video a first class citizen on the web.  This means we can do things with video and let it interact with other types of content (SVG, Canvas, HTML) in ways that haven’t been possible to date.  We hope that by releasing video from the plugin prison and letting it play nice with others we’ll be able to open up a new wave of creativity around video.  But more on that in another post.

There are some big changes in video happening in a couple of years. Mark Pilgrim mentioned this one:

After 12/31/2010, the MPEG-LA will start charging per-encoder royalty
fees. Quoting:

“In the case of Internet broadcast (AVC video that is delivered via
the Worldwide Internet to an end user for which the End User does not
pay remuneration for the right to receive or view, i.e., neither
title-by-title nor subscription), there will be no royalty during the
first term of the License (ending December 31, 2010), and after the
first term the royalty shall be no more than the economic equivalent
of royalties payable during the same time for free television.”

More context here

What would you like to see happen?

Posted by Dion Almaer at 8:56 am

4.1 rating from 24 votes


Comments feed TrackBack URI

Great article :))))
Regarding; “What would you like to see happen?”

YouTube switch to video tag when FF, Safari, Chrome and Opera have stable implementations of video tag and force IE completely out in the cold… ;)
But I guess wikipedia is a great number 2 on my priority list … ;)

Comment by ThomasHansen — January 27, 2009

I’m all for this, but I’m a videophile nut, and I’m not willing to sacrifice video quality or bandwidth to use anything substantially inferior to H.264 or VC-1, so that means the open community has the task of inventing a new video codec, not encumbered by patents, that can stand up to today’s HD video codecs, and that seems like a tall order.

Comment by cromwellian — January 27, 2009

Ogg Thorea won’t reach the quality of of H.264, but there is still room for improvement: http://web.mit.edu/xiphmont/Public/theora/demo.html
I think developing a new video codec with almost the same quality as H.264 without violating any patents is becoming increasingly difficult. You will probably spend most time of development with working around stupid software patents.
The problem with Ogg Thoera is that it will almost likely never be available for Internet Explorer and Safari by default (Microsoft will never support an open source codec and Apple only supports MPEG stuff…).

Comment by AndiSkater — January 27, 2009

I’m really curious why nobody seems to notice Dirac which is royalty-free and open besides giving the same (or better) quality than H.264 with lower bandwith usage.

Comment by Tolmi — January 27, 2009

Wow, that Dirac codec is interesting. I’d like to see a newer Doom9 shootout with it, but it would be interesting to see Mozilla jump on this.

Comment by cromwellian — January 27, 2009

The Dirac codec looks promising, but I don’t think Mozilla will support it. They have just donated $100.000 to Ogg. Dirac would have been the better choice, interesting why they didn’t choose it.

Comment by AndiSkater — January 28, 2009

IMHO, people are used to the quality of HD codecs in Flash now, and any open video codec with noticeable visual degradation compared to what you already see on YouTube, Vimeo, Hulu, etc won’t get much traction. Maybe the $100k to Ogg will result in them just copying the improvements in Dirac (since they’re open) and integrating them in Theora 2.0, but it doesn’t seem like the path of least resistance.

Comment by cromwellian — January 28, 2009

@cromwellian: That’s going to be hard as Theora uses DCT and Dirac uses wavelet compression (and many more differences). This would mean they design a new codec which obviously will not be “Theora”. I don’t think they’re willing to design one anyway.

Comment by Tolmi — February 2, 2009

Dirac is a great service already. Any improvement to that would be a great success IMO.

Comment by canvasprint — November 3, 2009

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