Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Google Releases VP8 as Open Source Royalty Free Video Codec, Launches with Broad Support from Online Video Industry

After much anticipation, big news came from the Google i/O developers conference today as Google announced the release of the VP8 video codec as a royalty free open source license. The announcement is aimed at making high-quality, open video freely available to everyone as noted by Google's vice president of product marketing Sundar Pichai who said, “We think video should be a great, free and an open option for all.”

Google has packaged VP8 with the open source audio codec Vorbis as part of Google's wider open source initiative called WebM Project, that is a broadly-backed community effort being led by GoogleMozillaOpera, and an impressive list of more than 40 industry partners. Among the supporters are software, hardware, video platform and publishing, and foundations, just to name a few that include: AdobeAMDARMBrightcoveBroadcomCollaboraDigital RapidsEncoding.comGrab NetworksiLincINLETKalturaLogitechMIPSNvidiaOoyalaQualcommSkypeSorenson MediaTelestreamTexas InstrumentsVerisiliconViewCastWildform, plus many more and the list will surely grow.

Adobe Chief Technology Officer Kevin Lynch appeared at the i/O conference, and said Adobe will be incorporating VP8 into Flash, "We'll push it out to a billion people within a year of the release."

Notably absent from the list of supporters is Apple which backs H.264. But Microsoft, on the other hand who recently announced support for H.264-encoded HTML5 video in IE9, just followed up with an announcement that the company will support VP8 as well.

WebM defines the file container structure or container format. Video streams are compressed with the VP8 video codec and audio streams compressed with the Vorbis audio codec. The WebM file structure is based on the Matroska (.mkv) container and will have a .webm extension. VP8 uses 14 bits for width and height, so the maximum resolution is 16384x16384 pixels. VP8 places no constraints on framerate or datarate. Google, Mozilla and Opera are all adding WebM support to their browsers and all videos that are 720p or larger uploaded to YouTube after May 19th will be be encoded in WebM as part of its HTML5 experiment.

Google acquired the VP8 codec, when it bought the video codec company On2 Technologies last year for $124m and ultimately threw in an extra $26.5m for a total of $133mRyan Lawler broke the story last month that Google would open source VP8 at the annual developers conference. Many have speculated that this move would cause major disruptions within the online video space, and ultimately challenge H.264 as the de facto web video standard for HTML5.

According to The WebM Project Frequently Asked Questions
Will WebM files play on my TV, set-top box, PVR, etc.? 
Stay tuned! The WebM community is working with hardware manufacturers to bring WebM support to a wide range of devices.
Are there any portable media players that can play WebM files?
There are none in the market today but we’re working with hardware manufacturers to bring WebM support to a wide range of devices.
But will it pose a major threat to H.264? Stay tuned as the story develops.