The new open media project is called WebM. As expected, the VP8 codec is at the center of WebM. Google acquired the video technology earlier this year, and developers have been itching with anticipation for Google to release VP8 as open source code.
“We are fully open-sourcing VP8 under a completely royalty-free license,” Google VP of product management Sundar Pichai announced to the thousands of attendees at the company’s I/O developer conference, taking place here this week. Google has already added support for the format to Chrome, and on YouTube as part of the site’s ongoing experiment in building an entirely HTML5-powered experience.
WebM is a set of codecs (coder-decoders) for browsers to use to play video and audio content embedded on HTML5 web pages without the use of plug-ins. The project was launched with the backing of Mozilla, Opera and Google. All three browser vendors have already begun building support for it, and Microsoft announced that it will support the video technology in Internet Explorer 9, which is due later this year. Adobe CTO Kevin Lynch was also on stage at Google I/O, and he announced that VP8 and WebM support would be rolled into Flash Player in the near future.
WebM arrives at the height of a great debate about the future of video online. Support is split between several technologies, including two separate technologies for native video playback, and the Flash Player, which some developers are moving away from in favor of open web standards like HTML5.
The primary components of WebM video are the VP8 codec, which is used for video, and the Vorbis codec, which is used for audio. The content is served inside of a Matroska container. Google acquired the video technology company On2 this year, and it has been working on developing VP8 for use in browsers and on hardware devices since the acquisition was approved.
The dominant video codec in use on the web is H.264, which some developers and browser vendors are loathe to use because of patent and licensing restrictions. H.264 patents are handled by the MPEG-LA licensing group, of which Apple and Microsoft are members. Mozilla VP of engineering Mike Shaver came on stage to praise the new WebM technology, saying “We want to see this in all browsers, on all devices.” He also announced the latest nightlies of Firefox will have support for WebM video and audio playback.
Hakon Lie, CTO of Opera Software, creator of CSS and long-time proponent of open web video, also took the stage and underscored the importance that open, unpatented video technology would make on the web. Opera’s ongoing work on WebM, along with the latest browser builds with WebM support, can be found at labs.opera.com.