In August 2009, Google acquired codec developer On2 Technologies for a rumoured $106 million. The flagship On2 codec was VP8 and it was also rumoured at the time that Google may open source this technology in the future, although a number of challenges lay ahead.
Late last week this rumour became reality
and WebM was born
. Alongside Theora and Dirac, WebM now enters the open source HTML 5 ready codec battle. Almost immediately all major web browsers, except one
, but including Internet Explorer announced support for the codec. Using the might and muscle of Google WebM must have a solid chance of taking on the dominance of H.264 in the web video delivery battle. This really will be a solid kick in the pants for Theora
, which now seems destined to remain a reasonably niche product, even with direct HTML 5 support from Firefox
WebM video is already available on YouTube
, in experimental form. How long before at least all new YouTube video is transcoded to this format? If WebM quality is on parity with H.264, and the jury is still out on that, what is the unique selling point of H.264? Why would anyone continue to use it?
There will be a substantial legacy component to overcome. Many people and organisations have invested heavily in H.264 technology, and a move to WebM may represent an operational, although not licensing, cost. However, with Google behind it, many of Big Business’ concerns around open source projects may be alleviated.
H.264 video is of course still dominant for web delivery, just as VP6 and VP7 was in the past. However, WebM is an exciting development with a bright future. Using the collective power of open source development, and no small amount of corporate backing from Google, watch out for WebM to challenge MPEG-LA’s codec
in the future.