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Google investing in Theora for mobile devices

Google this week announced their support and funding for an ARM-optimized Theora decoder intended for mobile devices. The move puts the open-source codec back into the spotlight as developers and companies continue to wrangle for support between H.264 and Theora for HTML5 video.

Aptly named ‘TheorARM’, the Xiph-based decoding library is heavily optimized for use on ARM processors that are widely used in today’s mobile devices such as the Nexus One, Motorola Droid, HTC HD2, and iPhone. The developer behind the project, Robin Watts, rewrote much of the standard Theora code so that it would run more efficiently on devices that lack the processing power that personal computers are privileged with today.

TheorARM claims to be far less resource intensive and complex compared to the standard offerings for video on mobile devices. Other codecs (such as H.264) rely on hardware acceleration to minimize battery drain and free up the CPU, but TheorARM shouldn’t even require any additional electronics for efficient playback. Thanks to Google’s funding, Watts is releasing the decoder under the same BSD license that the standard Theora codec uses so that all users could now possibly see the same benefits in the future.

So far, no consensus has been reached for a codec to fulfill the main duties of HTML5’s video element, though H.264 has garnered the most corporate and hardware support through Microsoft with IE9 and Apple with Safari and their ‘iDevices’. Patents and royalties have so far hindered H.264’s support among other developers as Opera and Mozilla continue to remain strong in their support for the open and royalty-free Theora. Google seems to be taking a middle-line approach as Chrome currently supports both codecs while Youtube offers H.264.

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