Microsoft offers H.264 plug-in for Google Chrome too

By on February 2, 2011, 11:03 AM
Microsoft has released a Windows Media Player HTML5 Extension for Chrome so as to enable H.264-encoded video on HTML5 by using built-in capabilities available on Windows 7. As you may recall, less than two months ago, Microsoft released the HTML5 Extension for Windows Media Player Firefox Plug-in with the same goal in mind. Even though Firefox and Chrome are big competitors to Microsoft's own Internet Explorer, the software giant has decided Windows 7 users should be able to play back H.264 video even if they aren't using IE9.

Here's the current state of HTML5 video: Microsoft and Apple are betting on H.264, while Firefox, Chrome, and Opera are rooting for WebM. Google was actually in favor of both H.264 and WebM up until earlier this month, when the search giant decided to drop H.264 support completely, even though the former is widely used and the latter is not. The company also announced that it would release WebM plugins for Internet Explorer 9 and Safari. Although IE9 supports H.264, excluding all other codecs, Microsoft is making an exception for WebM, as long as the user installs the corresponding codec, and is helping Google ensure the plug-in works properly.

These plug-in announcements are reminiscent of Adobe's stranglehold on online video with Flash. Certain browsers requiring plug-ins to support WebM video and others requiring plug-ins to support H.264 video is hardly a better solution to what we currently have. All the browser vendors agree that their software should have support for the HTML5 video tag, but they can't seem to agree on a standard that will allow it.

Microsoft's goal is to make sure that if the operating system supports H.264 (Windows 7 does out-of-the-box), then the user can play back said video, regardless of which browser they have installed. Google's goal is to push the world towards WebM. Apple seems to be only interested in H.264, but it has not really joined the conversation yet. Mozilla and Opera refuse to provide support for H.264 because the H.264 patent license agreement isn't cheap. On the other hand, 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.

"At Microsoft we respect that Windows customers want the best experience of the web including the ability to enjoy the widest range of content available on the Internet in H.264 format," a Microsoft spokesperson said in a statement. "Today, as part of the interoperability bridges work we do on this team, we are making available the Windows Media Player HTML5 Extension for Chrome, which is an extension for Google Chrome to enable Windows 7 customers who use Chrome to continue to play H.264 video. We are committed to ensuring that Windows customers have the best Web experience, and we have been offering for several years now the extremely popular Windows Media Player plug-in for Firefox, which is downloaded by millions of people a month who want to watch Windows Media content."

User Comments: 7

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Rick Rick, TechSpot Staff, said:

I was expecting a plugin that would do this and ironically, Microsoft delivered.

Google's attempt to strong-arm WebM into our lives is quite possibly well intentioned as H.264 is proprietary. MPEG LA could -- at any time -- decide to start collecting royalties from *everyone*, not just enormous enterprises (eg. Microsoft, Google, YouTube) and that would be bad for everyone. Well, everyone but MPEG LA of course!

In the spirit of the web, HTML5 (and such basic frameworks for the web) shouldn't be anchored down by proprietary technologies. It *should* be as free and open as possible. WebM delivers that. h.264 *may* deliver that. It's the "may" part that is scary.

For all other purposes than the Utopian ideal, it was a bad move by Google. Maybe the transition to WebM could give everyone a box of puppies in 10 years, but in the interim, Chrome and Firefox users will have to install plugins (or even avoid) h.264 content... content which would have played perfectly fine if it weren't for a simple philosophical issue.

Vrmithrax Vrmithrax, TechSpot Paladin, said:

It really boils down to Google (and Mozilla) not wanting to gamble at being stuck behind the 8-ball somewhere down the line. Basing all of your code on proprietary formats that have, at best, *may* and *should* futures, rather than open certainties, would give me pause as well. I tend to like being able to guarantee that the freeway I'm driving on remains a freeway, and doesn't suddenly arbitrarily change to a toll road somewhere along my drive, with no warning or offramps to avoid it

Per Hansson Per Hansson, TS Server Guru, said:

Yea, I agree with you guys.

The problem here is, as I said in the other news post where Google announced they where dropping H.264 support from Chrome:

Right now we have a very large install base of hardware capable of accelerating H.264 encoded material.

All that hardware is unable to accelerate WebM encoded material, no matter how well intended this push is by Google, Mozilla and Opera.

That means that allot of hardware will not just be wasting power, allot of systems will simply be incapable of playing back WebM material.

I'll take my old Thinkpad T40 as an example, it has an old ATI 7500 GFX card, so obviously the CPU has to do all the work, it's able to play back a 720p MKV just barley with 95% CPU load...

The CPU in that system is a Pentium M 2.1Ghz (Model 765)

On the other hand I have a HTPC, it has a ATI 2400Pro AGP GFX card (Released over 4 years ago)

It has an Athlon XP CPU running at 2.3Ghz

It's CPU load when playing back a 1080p MKV is below 5%

Tanstar said:

If you follow the link it says it is only for Win7, but it installed fine on my WinXP computer. Any sites where I can test it?

SNGX1275 SNGX1275, TS Forces Special, said:

I agree with Rick and Per. Google seemed to play it like they were in the game to kill off Apple's html5 push over Flash. At least thats the way I saw it since they kept Flash support, which is proprietary. So, as Rick said, its almost ironic that Microsoft comes in as the one to make a plugin for html5 for Chrome. What was Google going to do with all their h.264 youtube vids that they converted for iWhatever devices?

Guest said:

We know that Steve Jobs has an investment in 264. It's likely that MS does too. Hence, they don't lose money by supporting the patented technology where as others will.

SNGX1275 SNGX1275, TS Forces Special, said:

But h.264 is license free until 2016, and likely will be renewed like it was last time. So if google wants to push WebM there are probably better ways to do it than removing h.264 support in their browser at the time. They could work on AMD, nvidia, and Intel to provide hardware acceleration for it.

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