Google to Open the Source of VP-8

NewTeeVee has the scoop. Many technology blogs and commentators predicted that when Google acquired On2 it would open up the VP-8 codec. According to NewTeeVee’s sources, the move will be announced at Google’s developer conference next month. Google is planning to add support for the codec to Chrome and Mozilla is expected to announce they will be adding support too.

Ogg Theora, which I wrote about yesterday specifically that Google is helping to fund an ARM port, is based on the VP-3 codec donated to the Xiph project by On2. I wonder if this makes it possible for Theora to cherry pick some improvements from VP-8 to improve its own performance, one of the few complaints raised when Theora was being advanced as a possible standard codec as part of THML5.

I initially wondered how this might affect sites already using Ogg Theora but on further reflection, I am less concerned. The way HTML5’s video capabilities work, you can specify multiple sources for video embedded in a page. Having more choices should let browsers and users select whichever format is going to furnish the best viewing experience.

Until the announcement, we won’t know how Google will be handling the patents used in the VP-8 codec so Theora may still be preferable if we get only a pledge or promise instead of a permanent, royalty free grant. There is no discussion of any of the other codecs in On2’s portfolio. The announcement at Google I/O may include those or it may not. If not, then TheorARM is going to still prove key to adoption of open video on devices.

I am skeptical of the suggestions that VP-8 is going to become the default codec for HTML5. That is the world I would prefer to live in, mind you, but the patent and technical complaints that Apple, Nokia and others leveled against Theora will undoubtedly re-surface in similar form against VP-8. Granted, the vendors who refused to back Theora as a default just might include VP-8 alongside H.264, the proprietary codec the majority of them backed. Even if they won’t accept it as the default but they do include it in their sofyware, we may arrive at the next best thing, an open codec as the de facto default going forward.

Apple might prove a staunch holdout given the growing animosity between it and the search giant. That may evolve into a spite filled conflict much like the current war on Flash that Steve Jobs is waging. The potential irony if Microsoft, who recently decided to back HTML5 video, included VP-8 and Apple did not makes my head spin a little given that their roles have traditionally been reversed with regards to web standards in their respective browsers.

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