Google pulls support for H.264 video codec from Chrome

ORIGINALLY POSTED 12 JANUARY 2011

Google has removed support for the video codec H.264 from it’s popular web browser Google Chrome.  Both Apple and Microsoft heavily favor the video codec, which is under patent.  Google has made it a point to side with Mozilla and Opera in their stance of neutrality and desire for all web technologies to be unencumbered by patent restrictions.

“Though H.264 plays an important role in video, as our goal is to enable open innovation, support for the codec will be removed and our resources directed towards completely open codec technologies,” said Mike Jazayeri, a Google product manager, in a blog post.

A codec is what encodes and decodes video and audio downloaded and streamed on the internet.  There are many codecs out there but only a few which optimize file size which allows for efficient streaming while still providing a high enough audio and video resolution to be appealing to viewers.  The better codecs determine which audio and video the human senses will not miss and removes, the better the codec.  There is a huge change coming with the introduction of HTML 5 which incorporates many web elements such as video which previously was only channeled through Flash or similar mediums.  Flash uses codec H.264 and other codecs behind the scenes to play video and audio.  Since those are patented technologies, HTML 5 will not be using those elements either.  Apple has already shunned all Flash related media on their iOS which some consumers have complained about.  With HTML5 integrating video and audio and Flash only being available on specific browsers and operating systems, it is only a matter of time before Flash is weeded out of the mix as well as any patented codecs.

Although HTML5 video has promise, disagreements in the W3C standards group have meant the draft standard omits specifying a particular codec. Chrome was the only browser among the top five to support both WebM and H.264, but now Google has swung its vote. Google’s actions triggered astonishment from advocates of the “open Web”–one that employs open standards and refuses any patent barriers. “Ok this is HUGE, Chrome drops support for H264,” said Mozilla developer Paul Rouget in a tweet.

H.264 also deemed “AVC” is used in video camera, Blu-ray players, and a multitude of other devices but comes with large royalty licensing fees from the group MPEG LA that licenses hundreds of video-related patents on behalf of patent holders including Microsoft, LG, Panasonic, Phillips, Samsung, Sharp, Sony, and Toshiba.

With HTML5 coming on the scene soon there are still a lot of questions to be answered.  Just like the introduction of VHS and BETA it’s hard for companies to know who they should go with or if they should abandon the codecs altogether and move to HTML5.  As with most things only time will tell, but my experience has shown me that the internet is opening up.  The more companies try and grasp hold of it, it slips away- like grasping at straws; The internet will always be free and those who wish to provide code for free will triumph over those who wish to charge.


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About Jonathan G. Nelson

Jonathan G. Nelson is the editor-in-chief and owner of NERD TREK. He is also owner/publisher at AAW Games / AdventureAWeek.com, a tabletop gaming company based in Snoqualmie, WA. Connect with Jonathan via Facebook.