May 29, 2010

WebM for the rescue / The new HTML5 savior

Google announced at Google I/O, the most important thing in some time. You know all this messing with the Ogg Theora vs. H.264 issue. Free vs. market dictatorship.
I love Ogg Theora. But let's get real, it couldn't get the needed traction. Then there was an threat from this evil bitten fruit iGestapo company and the MPEG LA towards Theora with a patent pool. H.264 is not a alternative in any way. The internet had always and must always rely on free (as in freedom) open standards, and nothing a single consortium have control over prices and patents.
Google bought On2 some month ago and there was a little hope. The FSF plead in an open letter to Google to free a new codec. And in May 2010 Google heard it. Announcing a patent-free codec called WebM.

Will it be the new standard?
This is really a big and huge thing with upcoming GoogleTV, Android and mobile video. It makes a big scratch in the strategy of the fruit company, which not only depends completely on h.264, but are also a member of the MPEG LA (oh yeah, what wonders...). Firefox and Opera announced the exclusive use of WebM immediately. A lot of other companies did too, with big names. Hardware and Software manufacturers do support Google with this open video codec.

The list of the names is impressive:

and more.

If this isn't enough Microsoft said, IE9 will support WebM if the codec is installed in the system.
And YouTube will convert all videos to WebM starting now. All new videos from May 19th on will be stored automatically in WebM.
Adobe integrates WebM into flash, which is another big thing. Even if one has no will to use a browser with WebM support, which seems that only Safari won't to that date, you can playback the WebM-video via flash.

Now what exactly is WebM now? Is it teh beszt?
It's the VP8 video codec (more later), vorbis audio you already know from Ogg vorbis, and the Matroska container with a new doc-type. All patent free. Personally I think it's great to choose vorbis. It's quality is amazing even on low bitrates and superior when using the possible bitrate from about 500kbps. Matroska is a widely used container, that is famous for it's flexibility. According to the developer WebM is exactly Matroska with the doc-type .webm instead of .mkv. Software whichs parses Matroska only has to recognize the new extension.
WebM can be used for streaming and for video files. It's not only web video as the name suggests, but can be used for anything video.
The quality of the VP8 is very good. It has everything needed for high quality HD video. There is an horribly biased (not that this isn't biased :) )post of some guy from x.264 about it. It's so terrible that I don't want to link, but you can easily find on Google. Even he admits that VP8 is better than h.264 baseline, the most important settings used in almost any mobile device and most of the other video files.
VP8 will be improve even more of course. And if you want to squeeze out every bit of quality, which almost no device can handle, then probably VP8 won't be the best codec. Shocked? Well you know, if you could choose between a car with a contract that you only use fuel from a special company, costs more money and you have to pay to not get sued, and a car that has no restriction where to buy fuel and costs no extra money, but drives 3mph slower, which one would you buy?
It doesn't matter, you won't see the different even on HQ settings anyway. And even if you are the best detector for insanely little differences, you might be okay with it, because it assures that we have a free internet after 2015.

Hardware support?
Look at the list above. No doubt there will be plenty of hardware support in the very near future. Intel has announced that even they will hardware support if WebM gets popular, and there is no doubt about it.

Is it really open?
I read the tweets and questions about if it's really open source, if Mozilla can use it and so on.
Clearly it's free software in terms of the license and it's patent-free. Mozilla did already announce it and nightly builds from Firefox were available at the same day. Chrome will integrate it, too of course., the stuff behind Vorbis and Theora also joins the project. The FSF (Free Software Foundation) recommends it, too. You never can satisfy everyone. It's free enough to not "hand over the internet" to a video dictatorship consortium.

The conclusion (tadaaaa)
It's the format, man! Use it!
Good enough, free and supported by the industry. Supported by the portals, and now the party begins. Expect some threatening towards this new format from the ones who see their total market control blowing into pieces, but to be honest, that's another reason why WebM is the solution. You have some power behind you. No more racketeering.
Now the webdevs can start creating their sites with WebM video. Because now the list of browsers supporting WebM is bigger, and you don't want to lose your 30%+ share of Firefox/Opera users, right?