Saturday, January 15, 2011

Google's many positions on video codecs

Earlier this week, Google announced that it would drop support for the H.264 video codec from the HTML5 video tag in the Chrome browser, and replace it with support for its own WebM (VP8) codec. It also announced its intention to release WebM plug-ins for Apple's Safari and Microsoft's Internet Explorer browsers, which support H.264. Chrome joins Firefox and Opera in supporting WebM with the video tag.

Google suggests that Chrome users who want to access H.264 content use Adobe's Flash or Microsoft's Silverlight plug-ins. What's confusing about this is that the Chrome, Android and Google TV teams all have different views on the codec issue. Android's browser supports H.264, and there's no word from the Android team that they plan to drop it. Google TV doesn't support WebM, and in an interview last year, an executive from Intel was very noncommittal about future WebM support. Similarly, YouTube, which supports both H.264 and WebM, has said nothing about dropping support for H.264.

So, the message from Google seems to be "Use WebM for Chrome, H.264 for Android and Google TV, and either one for YouTube." It would be hard for them to be more confusing, or more confused. If you create or distribute Internet video to the desktop, set-top and mobile devices, you now have more to keep track of, and more transcoding to do.

It would be nice if Google would speak with a single voice, but its management doesn't seem capable of coordinating the actions of multiple product teams.

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