Google to drop support for H.264 in Chrome

By on January 11, 2011, 3:39 PM
Google just made a bold move in the HTML5 video tag battle: even though H.264 is widely used and WebM is not, the search giant has announced it will drop support for the former in Chrome. The company has not done so yet, but it has promised it will in the next couple of months. Google wants to give content publishers and developers using the HTML5 video tag an opportunity to make any necessary changes to their websites.

Here's the current state of HTML5 video: Microsoft and Apple are betting on H.264, while Google, Mozilla, and Opera are rooting for WebM. Although Internet Explorer 9 supports H.264, excluding all other codecs, Microsoft says it is making an exception for WebM, as long as the user installs the corresponding codec. Google developed WebM, but made an exception for H.264, until today's announcement. Meanwhile, Mozilla and Opera refuse to provide support for H.264 because the H.264 patent license agreement isn't cheap.

In addition to being new and thus not being widely supported, WebM does not have any hardware decoders like H.264 does. In the mobile world, this is very important because hardware video decoding allows mobile devices to get long battery life and smooth performance for video playback. As a result, we would expect that Google will address this issue in order to push publishers to switch from H.264 to WebM.

Last month, Microsoft announced an updated version of its Windows Media Player plug-in for Mozilla Firefox that enabled H.264-encoded video on HTML5 by using built-in capabilities available on Windows 7. The HTML5 Extension for Windows Media Player Firefox Plug-in is free to download but its release was controversial given that Firefox is a big competitor to Microsoft's own Internet Explorer. Microsoft's goal was to push the world towards H.264. Google's goal is to push the world towards WebM.

"We expect even more rapid innovation in the web media platform in the coming year and are focusing our investments in those technologies that are developed and licensed based on open web principles," a Google spokesperson said in a statement. "To that end, we are changing Chrome's HTML5 video support to make it consistent with the codecs already supported by the open Chromium project. Specifically, we are supporting the WebM (VP8) and Theora video codecs, and will consider adding support for other high-quality open codecs in the future. 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."





User Comments: 38

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princeton princeton said:

Chrome drops h.264, I drop chrome. Which really sucks because I was just moving off of firefox to chrome in the first place.

Vrmithrax Vrmithrax, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Can't really blame them. Even beyond the fact that Google developed WebM, the licensing thing with h.264 has been a sore spot in the battle royale for video codec dominance in HTML5. Nobody should be surprised that this division and dropping of h.264 is happening now, the "royalties will be charged starting in 2011" writing has been on the wall for a year now (although they just recently announced it will be royalty-free until 2016, if used in freely distributed content). Even if MS and Apple waived the fees again temporarily, there is always that looming worry that they'll start charging whenever they decide the time is right. It's always good to keep in mind that MS and Apple are constantly looking for revenue streams, and getting everyone dependent on h.264 fits the bill. As opposed to WebM, which is royalty-free.

Guest said:

Since this presumably means the HTML5 version of YouTube will shift exclusively to WebM also, then H.264 becomes pretty much redundant on the web. I can probably count the number of times I went a site other than YouTube for streaming video in the past few months on one hand - and they were no doubt all using Flash anyway. This is one area Google can probably unilaterally decide which codec wins out.

KG363 KG363 said:

Princeton said:

Chrome drops h.264, I drop chrome. Which really sucks because I was just moving off of firefox to chrome in the first place.

This

Vrmithrax Vrmithrax, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Well, Netflix and other streaming services might create a rift in that Google dominance. I know Netflix wrote its streaming service around the Silverlight framework, which is a Microsoft product, and supports h.264 natively. If it becomes a war, and Netflix no longer streams on Firefox or Chrome, you can bet that will be a huge kick in the nads for WebM. It would certainly change the browser I use for my HTPC. Not sure if it would come to that, though...

Anyone know if Netflix actually encodes h.264? I've seen references to VC-1 in articles about Netflix streaming, but not h.264 specifically (that I can recall)...

Emil said:

Vrmithrax said:

Well, Netflix and other streaming services might create a rift in that Google dominance. I know Netflix wrote its streaming service around the Silverlight framework, which is a Microsoft product, and supports h.264 natively. If it becomes a war, and Netflix no longer streams on Firefox or Chrome, you can bet that will be a huge kick in the nads for WebM. It would certainly change the browser I use for my HTPC. Not sure if it would come to that, though...

Anyone know if Netflix actually encodes h.264? I've seen references to VC-1 in articles about Netflix streaming, but not h.264 specifically (that I can recall)...

I think you'll find this interesting: [link]

Staff
Per Hansson Per Hansson, TS Server Guru, said:

Open standards are nice, however here I can't agree with Google

We need hardware assisted decode support for HD content, otherwise a big percentage of systems can't even play back this material

Try playing back a 1080p HD movie on any Intel Atom or AMD Bobcat platform without hardware assisted decode, it just isn't going to happen

And on the systems that do have enough CPU power to do it you will see a marked power consumption increase, not good for laptops, or a million PC's rendering Youtube content if you want to take it that far...

superphoenix said:

Per Hansson said:

Open standards are nice, however here I can't agree with Google

We need hardware assisted decode support for HD content, otherwise a big percentage of systems can't even play back this material

Try playing back a 1080p HD movie on any Intel Atom or AMD Bobcat platform without hardware assisted decode, it just isn't going to happen

And on the systems that do have enough CPU power to do it you will see a marked power consumption increase, not good for laptops, or a million PC's rendering Youtube content if you want to take it that far...

Oh well, if WebM wins, it will be supported by many hardware very soon.

Guest said:

Good for Google. Good for us. I do not want a browser with H.264 support. H.264 is limited, it is patented.

Tanstar said:

Princeton said:

Chrome drops h.264, I drop chrome. Which really sucks because I was just moving off of firefox to chrome in the first place.

Same here. I'd made the switch in full, but it's already a pain having to use IE Tab and sometimes loading up IE completely to view some pages. If Chrome is going to make that more likely and their browser is intensionally leaving out common, current technology then I'll just drop them. I don't like Chrome telling me what I can use anymore than I like Apple telling me what I can use.

Guest said:

Open standards are nice, however here I can't agree with Google

We need hardware assisted decode support for HD content, otherwise a big percentage of systems can't even play back this material

Worry not:

http://blog.webmproject.org/2010/10/demo-of-webm-running-on-
i-omap-4.html

http://blog.webmproject.org/2010/12/chips-delivers-vp8-hd-vi
eo-hardware.html

http://blog.webmproject.org/2011/01/availability-of-webm-vp8
video-hardware.html

In addition, many devices have general purpose DSPs which can be used for accelerated decoding of WebM (or any other video codec). Such as this use of the C64x+ DSP for accelerating Theora:

http://www.schleef.org/blog/2009/11/11/theora-on-ti-c64x-dsp
and-omap3/

mario mario, Ex-TS Developer, said:

This is a crappy decision by Google, most of the videos available online are already encoded in h.264 and most of the smartphones and notebooks already come with hardware decoding chips.

This move also sucks for developers since they'll have to start encoding their content in a myriad of formats to support their users. WebM looks nice but there's no hardware decoding and no content available in that format, Theora has been around for a long time and has never been in the game although they have tried a lot.

Ultimately this affects the users they'll be forced to watch h.264 content using Flash or other plugins. I don't see current video providers jumping on the WebM bandwagon, if Google had announced this with some major players (content and hardware-wise) I might have a different opinion but they didn't.

Guest said:

Everyone seems to be forgetting ARM/Android, if ARM gets hardware WebM decode it's all moot.

Guest said:

oops ... not if, but when

Guest said:

Well Google on Yout Tube just needs to put a message on pages served to broswers that don't do webM.

"If you want to expereince the best quality of You Tube please use a browser that supports webM"

Guest said:

Wonderful... I bet Adobe is shouting, 'Go Google, Go!' as I can't see how having so called "web standards" being fragmented in implementation does anything than help their Flash cause.

Also, makes one wonder how this fits into Google's Green Company thing. After all, implementing technologies that will cause a significant segment of the browsing public to consume more power must negate, in some measure, their trying to be green with their data centers. I wouldn't be surprised if the more militant of the global warming crowd could see their way to call this move 'environmentally irresponsible'.... except of course that you don't shoot your own where politics matters more than fact.

AnonymousSurfer AnonymousSurfer said:

Princeton said:

Chrome drops h.264, I drop chrome. Which really sucks because I was just moving off of firefox to chrome in the first place.

Agreed. I don't know why they would do such a thing but oh well it's google...

Guest said:

Sorry, <BEEP> you Google.

lawfer, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Firefox stays winning in my book.

Staff
Per Hansson Per Hansson, TS Server Guru, said:

superphoenix said:

Oh well, if WebM wins, it will be supported by many hardware very soon.

Well, as I said above all existing hardware wont be able to offload WebM completely, so to take advantage of it will require a new graphics card

This leaves millions of already installed systems without hardware support...

"On Jan 7 2011, Rockchip released the world's first chip to host a full hardware implementation of 1080p VP8 decoding. The video acceleration in the RK29xx chip is handled by the WebM Project's G-Series 1 hardware decoder IP."

[link]

Guest said:

Facts are great. Hardware support for webm:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WebM#Hardware

or

http://blog.webmproject.org/2011/01/availability-of-webm-vp8
video-hardware.html

Although of course hardware accelerated video is considerably newer than video on computers and the web and we all managed then...

Guest said:

Same old song and dance. Each vendor comes up with their own standard, market it as being open, better, faster, etc. (regardless if it's really true), then the wars begin. Over time one or more things win or combine and finally the consumer wins. It would be nice if they could all put the consumer first however I don't see that happening.

Guest said:

What Google really should do is switch Youtube to WebM.

That'd make the hardware vendors jump.

Guest said:

ah, but Google *is* putting the consumer first - with H.264, you have to buy an OS or system that licences the codec. You have no choice there.With WebM, you can have it bundled with any OS 'cos its free. that means more devices will support it, and those devices will be a bit cheaper.

Whilst there will be some growing pains, once they're dealt with, things will be a lot better for us all.

Mizzou Mizzou said:

Facts are great. Hardware support for webm:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WebM#Hardware

or

[link]

Although of course hardware accelerated video is considerably newer than video on computers and the web and we all managed then...

There's a considerable difference between the announcement of support for WebM and the actual implementation. As Per Hansson has already noted above, this does nothing for the existing install base. This comes across to me as a pretty heavy handed tactic by Google in an attempt to achieve their goals. Also, I find this statement from the Wiki article interesting:

NVIDIA has stated that they support VP8 adoption, but they have no specific plans to provide hardware support

Guest said:

The reason is simply that Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox cannot support H.264. This is a simple concept. There is a licensing deadlock between these browsers and the H.264/AVC standard. The free cost of licensing is not the issue. The issue is that the licenses behind Chrome and Firefox require that users have the same rights to redistribute the code of these softwares as Google and Mozilla do. But the H.264 patent license does not pass down from Google and Mozilla to you if you use these browsers - if it did, this would mean that the H.264 patent holders will never, ever be able to suck money out of H.264 in the future. Hence this is a legal quagmire that can only be bypassed by the H.264 patent holders. Google and Mozilla do not hold all the copyrights required to change their licenses. Only the H.264 patent holders can change their licensing terms. Until that happens, it is fully illegal for Chrome or Firefox to use H.264!

Mizzou Mizzou said:

That certainly helps explain things ... thanks for the feedback.

Guest said:

Until that happens, it is fully illegal for Chrome or Firefox to use H.264!

What? Chrome's had H.264 support for ages.

Guest said:

I am a professional web developer and I happen to like WebM better. It uses on2 codec, which is much clearer and better compression than the licensed H.264. I think that Goole is making the correct move here.

Guest said:

Chrome has yes, because Google's Chrome stack includes added proprietary elements on top of the Chromium Project's software, basically, chrome provided it via a plugin and accepted the licensing for *Chrome*.

However, the rest of the software, the Chromium Project, cannot bundle h.264 as a native part of the code and ship it as free software. As such the linux builds of chromium do not have it.

Any browser based off the Chromium Project's code, cannot bundle h.264, etc. Also, I'm too lazy to look it up but Google may also require copyright assignment, which makes them the copyright holders of the code, which means *they* could bundle h.264 natively, as the copyright holder is not quite as strictly prohibited from doing such things with GPL code. (basically you can release code under a gpl and proprietary license or exempt yourself from part of your license, but you may not deny anyone else privileges to use the gpl'd code.

Edito Edito said:

Im sad cause i feel like google just lose they're focus...

Guest said:

I think some of you are confusing content encoded with H.264 but using Flash (and Silverlight to some extent), that wont be effected by this decision. HTML 5.0 embedded video, encoded with H.264 is still far from commonplace, I doubt most of you considering jumping ship from Chrome have barely even viewed any content like that yet.

If YouTube uses WebM rather than H.264 then hardware support will come (it was already announced by various SoC manufacturers before this anyway), the browser support will come (almost all the browsers allow viewing of WebM in some way or another already, including IE, Firefox and Chrome, which is the vast majority of marketshare), and when this becomes the case any web developer or content publisher with any sense will use WebM in addition to - or more likely - instead of H.264, and thus the cycle is complete.

Guest said:

Firefox is drooping H264 as well lol so all those people are leaving for them and they will not have it aether.

Guest said:

It sounds like a number of commenter's on here are saying that nobody should use WebM, because nobody is using it. I wonder how they like chiseling appointments and notes into their iStone?

Guest said:

Why would any sane person use something as horrible as Google Chrome in the first place? It's the worst performing application that I have seen in over 20 years.

matrix86 matrix86 said:

Guest said:

Why would any sane person use something as horrible as Google Chrome in the first place? It's the worst performing application that I have seen in over 20 years.

So then why is it becoming the number one browser of choice? Jut because you find it to be crap doesn't mean it is. I'm half and half between FireFox and Chrome, myself. I really don't see much of a difference between the two. Peacekeeper browser bench marker shows a big performance difference, but in real world usage, I've yet to see any noticeable difference in performance between the two. But now we're getting on a whole new subject that does'nt belong in this thread, lol.

WebM may be great, but I think it's a little too soon to just drop support for everything else. Until people start getting into coding for WebM, browsers need to continue support for H.264. Once WebM starts to catch up, then start really pushing it. I just think it's too soon right now. But that's just me.

Guest said:

Re: Netflix -- you can be sure they will be distancing themselves from H.264, or else they will be paying dearly for it when the IP tycoons start ringing their cash registers.

SNGX1275 SNGX1275, TS Forces Special, said:

What are the specific details on h.264 licensing? I thought it was free until at least 2016, I say at least because I thought there was a deadline approaching recently and they just bumped it back.

I don't think Chrome switched solely because of the possibility of being charged in the future, because if that was the case then why Google they convert all those youtube vids to h264 so the iPhone could use them?

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