Mission Accomplished: Online video standard format war is over

Apple Online Store“The format war over online video standards is over. You may not have realized there was a war at all, but this is a big deal,” Anders Bylund writes for The Motley Fool. “This is not a cease-fire, but a peace treaty with every relevant John Hancock firmly aboard.”

Advertisement: The iPad. With a 9.7″ touch screen & amazing new apps, it does things no tablet PC, netbook, or e-reader could. Starts at $499. Shop Now.

Bylund explains, “When Google released the high-quality WebM video format royalty-free to the world, digital video publishers were faced with a conundrum: Support the guaranteed royalty-free but slightly lower-quality WebM standard, or the sharper but potentially more expensive H.264 industry standard?”

The industry divided among the WebM camp, the H.264 supporters, and the true neutrals of the browser world thusly:
• WebM support only: Mozilla Firefox.
• H.264 support only: Microsoft Internet Explorer and Apple Safari.
• Both: Google Chrome and Opera.

“Now the MPEG LA technology licensing body has announced that the H.264 standard will join WebM on the royalty-free side of the fence until the end of time or until the standard becomes obsolete, whichever comes first,” Bylund writes. “This makes Google’s $133 million buyout of On2 Technologies seem like a waste of money — that’s where the technology for WebM came from, and now there’s really no need to provide a royalty-free alternative to the prevailing standard. But raise your hand if you believe that H.264 would be free today if Google hadn’t made that move. Yeah, that’s what I thought.”

Bylund writes, “Of course, H.264 isn’t entirely free even now… This tricky minefield just got a little less dangerous but is by no means completely defused.”

Read more in the full article here.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “JES42” for the heads up.]


  1. WebM is not “guaranteed royalty-free” — there are definite patent concerns about it (even Steve Jobs has mentioned this) and there’s no “guarantee” that Google would pick up the bill if you get sued for using it.

  2. And the relevance/significance also is the death of Flash as a media format? Let’s hope so. Flash can’t disappear from the mobile scene especially quick enough.

  3. @ Cannot login to MDN–

    Delete an reinstall the app. I run into this same bug it seems about twice a week.

    That is the only way that I have found to “fix” the problem.

  4. H264 is royalty free as long as it’s being used non-commercially at the User End. Otherwise, royalties still apply to commercial providers. So even with this announcement, nothing has really changed, except perhaps clarifying the obvious.

    On the other side of the fence, Google will do whatever necessary to promote WebM, even if the quality of the content is crap. Google seems to have a child-like penchant for spending $$$ in tech areas where other fools fear to tread.

  5. MPEG-LA has clearly succeeded with their PR effort here.

    The actual facts in the matter are different. NOTHING has changed by this. H.264 was already free of royalty payments for content providers offering content for free (such as YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook and such).

    Unlike Google’s video format, where you can create software that uses encoders or decoders for free, you CANNOT develop anything that will encode or decode H.264 without paying for a license.

    Mozilla Firefox does NOT, and will NOT support H.264 in its HTML5 rendering because they would have to pay $5 million US every years for a license for a H.264 decoder. Unless MPEG-LA makes a very specific agreement with the Mozilla foundation that would exempt them from paying a license for H.264 rendering within Firefox, HTML5 has no chance in ever becoming a dominant method for delivery of video. Currently, only Safari and MSIE support H.264 within HTML5 (Apple and MS can easily pay $5M per year). Firefox, Opera and others can’t, so they don’t support it. Firefox supports an obscure open-source format called Ogg Theora (an inefficient codec that is a potential patent minefield), and even Google’s open-source WebM isn’t quite clear of all patent claims yet.

    This is the primary reason why we now have Flash as the dominant technology for wrapping H.264 video. Practically every desktop supports it, so as a web developer, you don’t have to care if they’re using Firefox or Safari (or MSIE). With the rapid emergence of iOS devices as significant web surfing platform, web developers are now finding themselves having to develop two solutions: one with Flash (to make sure everyone on desktop can see their content) and a Flash-less, HTML5 one, for iOS devices that don’t do Flash.

    This piece of news is extremely broken, and someone should notify the original authors.

Reader Feedback

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.