Martin Atkins (mart) wrote in apparentlymart,
Martin Atkins

This pesky HTML5 video codec issue

The discussion about what video codec to require as a baseline for the <video> element in HTML5 has hit an annoying deadlock. Taking into account the needs and wants of all players, the spec requires a video codec that:

  • does not require patent licence fees (since that would make it incompatible with open source)
  • has already been implemented by Apple and other big players (since they don't wish to increase their patent attack surface)
  • that is good enough to actually be useful (for obvious reasons)

There is currently absolutely no codec which satisfies all three of the above. The second one is the main bind: the set of codecs that have already been implemented, even if we just take Apple as an example, is a very small, closed set. They've implemented the MPEG4 codec H.264. H.264 is currently encumbered by patents that require licence fees. Therefore the union of all of the above sets is the empty set.

It seems to me that the only tenable solution to this stalemate is to somehow persuade the MPEG-LA to allow at least one of the H.264 profiles to be implemented freely. This is largely a political problem, as those who are represented by the MPEG-LA will need to be convinced that there is some useful business reason to do so. The best reason I can come up with right now is that it might allow them to "upsell" adopters to the more advanced profiles, though I really don't know enough about video codecs to understand what most of the features of each profile even mean.

I do find it sad that an organisation has actually gone to the effort of making available a codec that is, to the best of current knowledge, unencumbered by patents -- Ogg Theora -- and yet it's still unusable due to the current mess that is the patent system.


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