Monday, 24 May 2010

IT Industry Fights over Internet Video Standards

The fight:
How should online videos be delivered to users over the internet.

The Status Quo:
Currently, Adobe Flash is the defacto standard. However, this is not an ideal situation because users need to download a browser plugin from Adobe, and that plugin is widely considered to be bloated, buggy, a CPU hog and a battery killer. Also, if Adobe cannot or will not provide a plugin for a particular platform then that platform will be unable to access vast amounts of content on the internet. Apple are currently refusing to support Flash on their iProducts which has led to an amusing round of name calling between the two. Of course, there may be other reasons that Apple may not want to let Adobe play in their sandpit though.

The Solution:
What is needed is a native, standardised, open video that can be built into all browsers. This will negate the need for a multitude of proprietary plugins. This standard is intended to be defined in the upcoming specification for HTML 5.

The Fly In The Ointment:
A group of the usual suspects are pushing for their own format, while the open source crowd lead by Google are pushing for another.

The Fighters:
In the Red Corner, we have the MPEG-LA who own a bunch of video codec patents and are pushing their H.264 codec at the W3C. The w3c are the organisation that is responsible for defining standards on the internet. The group includes Apple and Microsoft along with almost every major Consumer Electronics manufacturer on the planet. Between them, this group owns a "patent pool" and license the use of the H.264 codec to every one else. H.264 is currently available under a "free" (gratis) license although this position is to be "reviewed" in a few years. Open sourcers fear that the MPEG-LA are waiting for the time that H.264 becomes an essential part of the internet before they jack up the prices in a classic bait and switch maneuver. They are concerned that once there is a price attached to use of the codec, open source people will no longer be able to use it.

In the Blue Corner is basically everyone who is not a member of the MPEG-LA. This includes Mozilla, Opera and Google. Google has just spent $125 million purchasing a company that makes another video codec called VP8. They then open sourced that codec effectively giving free access to anyone who wants to use it. Of course it is in Googles interests for as many people as possible to access Googles services with as few encumbrances as possible. The Big G are afraid that if MS and Apple were to have effective control over where and how video is delivered on the internet then they could use that to control how users get access to Googles servers and limit that access to only the people who buy their own products along with demanding royalty payments from Google as well.

So, the current situation sees the MPEG-LA making noises about demanding royalties from VP8 users based on alleged "patent violations" in attempt to close it down.

It is a good thing for this all to come to a head and Google is one of the few players in the industry with deep enough pockets to fight a drawn out legal battle with the entrenched industry incumbents.

The sooner this is all brought out in the open and into the courts the sooner we can put all the FUD regarding HTML 5 video codecs behind us.

Ain't corporate greed a wonderful thing?

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