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."