"Bottom line, we are at an impasse in the evolution of HTML video. Having no baseline codec in the HTML specification is far from ideal," a Google spokesperson said in a statement. "This is why we're joining others in the community to invest in WebM and encouraging every browser vendor to adopt it for the emerging HTML video platform (the WebM Project team will soon release plugins that enable WebM support in Safari and IE9 via the HTML standard video tag). Our choice was to make a decision today and invest in open technology to move the platform forward, or to accept the status quo of a fragmented platform where the pace of innovation may be clouded by the interests of those collecting royalties. Seen in this light, we are choosing to bet on the open web and are confident this decision will spur innovation that benefits users and the industry."
The plugin announcement is reminiscent of Adobe's stranglehold on online video with Flash. Certain browsers requiring a plugin to support WebM video isn't very different. Google is actually trying what Microsoft has already attempted. 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.
Microsoft and Apple are betting on H.264 since it is much more widely adopted and because it has hardware decoders, which allows mobile devices to get long battery life and smooth performance for video playback. Google developed WebM as an alternative, and it has managed to get Mozilla and Opera on board because it is more open and is free. Microsoft has said that Internet Explorer 9 would only support H.264, but that it would make an exception for WebM, as long as the user installs the corresponding codec. Apple has so far stayed silent and is sticking solely with H.264.
All the browser vendors agree that their software should have support for the HTML5 video tag, but they can't agree on the standard that will allow it. The discussions around the recent announcements from Google and Microsoft have been interesting, but beyond that, it does not look like the industry is making any progress towards unification.