Google and Mozilla today launched The Web M Project, which is essentially “a high-quality, open video format for the web that is freely available to everyone.”
It’s important because of the patent issues hanging over the most popular high-quality low-file-size codec, h.264.
At the moment, we’re staring down the barrel of a very long and boring format war, where Firefox and Opera browsers will not support h.264 for use with the new HTML5 video tag because of uncertainty over its patent situation – they only support the open source Theora codec (and now WebM).
Meanwhile, Apple’s Safari browser and Internet Explorer 9 will only support h.264, not Theora.
And Google’s Chrome browser supports it all: h.264, Theora and now WebM.
So essentially, whatever format you pick, it’s incompatible with 50% of users or more.
HTML5 promises to enable us to do some very cool things with video – but it looks like instead of just being able to get stuck into playing with it, we’ll have to work around these big problems of incompatibility, depending on what format we choose to work with. It feels like Quicktime vs Windows Media vs Real all over again. We got around all that last time with Flash video. HTML5 is supposed to be the Flash killer.
The excitement revolves around the hope that WebM and its VP8 codec may deliver quality and compression to rival h.264, and will be supported by Firefox & Opera, and potentially YouTube – without the patent uncertainties and costs that h.264 has for commercial users.
Will this make a difference? Will it convince Apple & Microsoft, and gain cross-browser compatibility? Or does the arrival of a serious rival for h.264 just give many years of new life to a battle that might otherwise have been won by h.264 comparatively quickly?
Or is it just generally a good thing to have happened and I shouldn’t be looking a gift horse in the mouth?