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WebM – The New Open Source Codec on the Block

May 27, 2010 Leave a comment

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.
In short order some early comparisons between H.264 and WebM appeared online. Some with more technical detail than others. The debate also began as to whether Google was benevolent or evil. Did WebM contain submarine patents that not even Google were aware of?
Producing WebM video for the masses was the next step. Easy to follow FFmpeg tutorials are available and just a few days ago a major commercial transcoding software vendor announced WebM/VP8 support.
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.
Adding to this, H.264 video within a Flash player still has significant advantages over HTML 5 delivered video content, in terms of presentation flexibility and perceived security.
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.

How Firefox Is Pushing Open Video Onto the Web

June 20, 2009 Leave a comment

There’s a great article called How Firefox Is Pushing Open Video Onto the Web by Micheal Calore over at WebMonkey, dealing with the HTML 5 <video> tag and Firefox’s native Ogg Theora support. The piece outlines the technical details of the <video> tag and includes an interview with Mozilla director of Firefox Mike Beltzner and Mozilla director of platform engineering Damon Sicore.

An excerpt from the interview:

Webmonkey: How do you see these factors — the HTML
5 video tag, putting the Ogg codecs right into the browser,
presentation techniques that mimic the plug-in player experience –
affecting video on the web? What’s it going to change in six months? Or
six years?

Beltzner: In six months, you’re going to see more
sites like DailyMotion doing things where they detect that the browser
supports Ogg and the video tag, and in that case, they’re going to give
those users an Ogg-and-video-tag-experience.

I think you’ll see content sites doing this because they’ll have the
ability to re-encode their entire video libraries without having to pay
any licensing fees. The Ogg Theora encoders are completely license-free
and patent-proof. They don’t need to worry about which player you’ve
got. They also don’t need to worry about which hardware you’ve got. Ogg
Theora will run on Windows, Mac and Linux, or any embedded device or
mobile device built on the Linux platform.

Here’s a beta example page from DailyMotion demonstrating use of the HTML 5 <video> tag. If you have Firefox 3.5 installed, or a reasonably new version of Webkit/Safari and the XiphQT component install, you should have in browser video playback – Ogg Theora and no Flash player needed.

YouTube’s demonstration page here.

Categories: Codecs, Video Tags: , , , ,

HTML 5, Codecs and the Video Tag

June 20, 2009 Leave a comment

Spending the last two days at the Open Video Conference has been a great experience, lots of interesting speakers and I’ve learned a few things. Perhaps I’ll write more in general later, however it’s worth mentioning, while still fresh in my mind, today’s sessions around royalty-free codecs and the HTML 5 <video> tag.

The main focus of the Royalty Free Codecs session seemed to be around Ogg Theora. Also present though were Sun, speaking about their new Open Media Stack, and David Schleef to represent his work on the Schroedinger Dirac library. I would have loved to hear more about what was happening with Dirac, but the crowd wanted Theora news.

A short demonstation on the projector screen showed H.263/H.264 content versus the same Ogg Theora content at various bit rates, the highest less than 500Kbps. The results, from Theora’s perspective, were very good. Visually I couldn’t pick out any differences on the large screen. I would have liked to see the demonstration done at higher, greater than 1Mbps, bitrates, though. Not the one used today, but a similar demonstration is available here.

Sun did not do themselves any favours at this Conference. A session yesterday gave them time to discuss the process they undertook to ensure there were no IP encumbrance in their new codec and Open Media Stack, but right at the end the key revelation was that they’re unable to Open Source their work.

David did not have much of a chance to talk in depth about Dirac, and I was disappointed not to have gained a better understanding the current development status, and community input velocity around Dirac. He did make a point that the BBC were using Dirac internally, which is true but only to a very small extent. In non-linear editing environments, DVCProHD, AVC-I 100 and ProRes are still the codecs of choice. In my opinion this due to the lack of tools available for Dirac work. Dirac tool development needs a great leap forward if this codec is to gain any significant traction.

The next session had representatives from all major browsers (Firefox, Webkit and Opera), except IE, present to talk about HTML 5 and the new <video> tag.

Firstly, I was particularly interested in the W3C Draft Web Fragments specification. Amongst other things, this will allow playback of just segments of video, based on a time specification in seconds. While not currently possible, if this could be extended to read an embedded timecode track and seek in a frame accurate manner, that would be truly powerful in an open standard.

With Safari on Mac, the <video> tag can be used to playback any video format for which the user has the relevant codec and QuickTime component installed. Thus we have Theora support through the XiphQT component. In the latest version of iMovie, QuickTime Pro and Final Cut Pro, users can now also choose to export or render in Ogg Theora. If only the Dirac QT component was ready.

Metavid developers also demonstrated a cute javascript library embed workaround that covered IE’s lack of support for the <video> tag. Full details are available on the Metavid website, as well as a demonstration of the code in action. Even if you’re browser doesn’t currently support the HTML 5 <video> element, this script will take care of it.

The cross fade is particularly interesting. Do we no longer need to finish clips in a non-linear editor? Can we now perform hard cuts based on an edit decision list and let the browser deal with the fading or finishing element of the job?

Hopefully there’s some exciting times ahead for open source, royalty free video codecs and ubiquity of embedded video on the Web. 

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