Standard Video Codec for HTML 5: Not Likely

As a follow-up to my last blog post about HTML 5 being on the horizon, it looks like we may have taken one step back with regards to a standard video codec. Ian Hickson recently released that he has been unable to get browser vendors to agree on a universal codec, so he has officially decided to remove the sections from the HTML 5 spec that require a browser to adhere to a specific codec. Hickson lists where each vendor stands on the HTML 5 video codecs:

  • Apple refuses to implement Ogg Theora in Quicktime by default (as used by Safari), citing lack of hardware support and an uncertain patent landscape.
  • Google has implemented H.264 and Ogg Theora in Chrome, but cannot provide the H.264 codec license to third-party distributors of Chromium, and have indicated a belief that Ogg Theora’s quality-per-bit is not yet suitable for the volume handled by YouTube.
  • Opera refuses to implement H.264, citing the obscene cost of the relevant patent licenses.
  • Mozilla refuses to implement H.264, as they would not be able to obtain a license that covers their downstream distributors.
  • Microsoft has not commented on their intent to support <video> at all.

He likened the situation to that of the <img> tag and <embed>, in that there will not be any universal format, but instead any number of formats can be supported, depending on whatever the browser vendor decides to support. Hickson sees only a few possibilities for the future of a universal codec:

  1. Ogg Theora encoders continue to improve. Off-the-shelf hardware Ogg Theora decoder chips become available. Google ships support for the codec for long enough without getting sued and Apple’s concern regarding submarine patents is reduced. => Theora becomes the de facto codec for the Web.
  2. The remaining H.264 baseline patents owned by companies who are not willing to license them royalty-free expire, leading to H.264 support being available without license fees. => H.264 becomes the de facto codec for the Web.

But as it stands, there will not be a standard video codec for HTML 5, shame. You can read Ian Hickson’s entire message here: