Google details reasons behind upcoming removal of H.264 support in Chrome

Google has this morning detailed the reasons behind the upcoming removal of support for the H.264 video codec in their web browser, Chrome.

Earlier in the week the company made headlines across the technology sector with the news they will drop support for the popular video codec in an upcoming version of Chrome in a bid to support the more open web video standards WebM (VP8) and Theora like competing web browsers Opera and Firefox.

On the other hand, Microsoft's Internet Explorer and Apple's Safari web browsers both support H.264 which has become the subject of much scrutiny over the past year or so given it's commercial licensing requirements and the managing body's refusal to rule out charging for commercial use of the codec in future years. 

In a lengthy ten paragraph post on the Chromium blog, Chrome's Product Manager Mike Jazayeri explained the reasons behind the company's decision to drop support for the popular video codec in an upcoming version of Chrome, saying the web is at a "impasse" when it comes to video support and that they hope their decision to drop H.264 support will "move the web forward".

"Our choice was to make a decision today and invest in open technology to move the platform forward, or to accept the status quo of a fragmented platform where the pace of innovation may be clouded by the interests of those collecting royalties," Jazayeri said. "Seen in this light, we are choosing to bet on the open web and are confident this decision will spur innovation that benefits users and the industry."

They'll instead opt to re-position resources to make the most of their own WebM standard, in the hope it may one day become one of the selected underlying video codecs in HTML 5 - with Jazayeri explaining the search giant feels the core web technologies need to be open source and free for anyone to use.

"We genuinely believe that core web technologies need to be open and community developed to enable the same great innovation that has brought the web to where it is today," he wrote.

The move has angered many, who say Google's announcement will mean the formats of videos on the web will become even more fragmented, for example Apple's iOS devices don't support WebM or Flash, instead H.264 was one of the few formats that worked across the board. Google says while they could afford to pay any licensing fees which may eventually be placed on the H.264 codec, they feel innovation may be harmed by the unknown future and pricing at this stage of the codec.

"To companies like Google, the license fees may not be material, but to the next great video startup and those in emerging markets these fees stifle innovation," Jazayeri explained. "When technology decisions are clouded by conflicting incentives to collect patent royalties, the priorities and outcome are less clear and the process tends to take a lot longer. This is not good for the long term health of web video."

To be clear Google's announcement only relates to the forthcoming HTML 5 standard video tag, with users still able to play the videos through plug-ins such as the either loved or hated Adobe Flash Player or Microsoft Silverlight -- but its impact will be felt by all developing for HTML 5 with many beginning to choose H.264 as their video codec.

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