Google to make VP8 free, HTML5 to benefit

Sources are indicating that Google is set to open up the VP8 codec that they recently acquired from last year’s On2 purchase. NewTeeVee reports that sources familiar with the matter have confirmed Google’s plan to open-source the project next month at their annual Google I/O developer conference. 

The report comes hot off the heels from last week’s announcement of Google funding TheorARM for mobile devices. This latest move could have a significant impact on the adoption of HTML5, where different parties are picking sides between Theora and H.264. Microsoft and Apple have thrown their support behind H.264 with Internet Explorer 9 and Safari, but others such as Opera and Mozilla are vehement in their allegiance for a free alternative that isn’t encumbered with licensing or royalty fees. 

Theora hasn’t seen the widespread adoption it was once hoped for due to issues in quality and performance. H.264 currently holds advantages in not just video quality, but performance and efficiency from its widespread hardware acceleration support. On2, the makers of VP8, have touted the codec as superior to H.264 in quality and efficiency

"With the introduction of On2 VP8, On2 Video now dramatically surpasses the compression performance of all other commercially available formats. For example, leading H.264 implementations require as much as twice the data to deliver the same quality video as On2 VP8 (as measured in objective peak signal to noise ratio (PSNR) testing). 

In addition, the On2 VP8 bitstream requires fewer processing cycles to decode, so users do not need to have the latest and greatest PC or mobile device to enjoy On2 VP8 video quality.”

If VP8 does get opened, Mozilla, Opera, and Google could possibly include VP8 decoding support in their browsers. Google currently supports both H.264 and Theora in their Chrome browser, but only H.264 in Youtube. Transcoding terabytes of Youtube videos to VP8 seems like an unlikely move given the resource costs, but one can never be certain with Google. 

While the Free Software Foundation should at least be happy with the move, it is doubtful whether it will make a difference to Apple and Microsoft’s deep commitment to H.264. 

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