back to article Google open sources $124.6m video codec

Google has taken a swashbuckling step towards open and license-free web video by open sourcing the leading codec from On2 Technologies, the video-compression outfit it acquired earlier this year for $124.6 million. This morning, at Google's annual developer conference in San Francisco, Google vice president of product …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Opera 10.54 with WebM for download...

    You can grab your copy of Opera with WebM support, and actually try it out at YouTube!

    Opera with WebM:

    YouTube in WebM:

    Opera have also stated their are pushing their work on VP8 for GStreamer back to the OpenSource community (I suppose they have to..), so GStreamer will be VP8 enabled very soon too...

  2. rhdunn


    Great work Google. Interesting times ahead.

  3. I didn't do IT.
    Thumb Up

    Holy cow

    So, the event everybody was whinging for to happen ("if only", "why don't they", "it could never happen, but...") has actually happened.

    Heady Days, to be sure.

  4. 46Bit

    A prediction

    I give them two weeks till the patent lawsuit is filed, and an absolute shitstorm of web campaigns/etc backing Google over this. I then expect the lawsuit going on for a couple of years, Google eventually winning by proving the patents used against are trivial (which is certainly true for many of them), the web proclaiming victory only being due to their campaigns even though that probably won't be true, and then a fairly good path for web video afterwards. Just my two cents.

    1. Gulfie

      Nice idea but...

      ... are there any spare patent lawyers left to look at the case?!

  5. Anonymous Coward


    Excellent! Let the fighting begin! All hail the Chocolate Factory!

  6. Anonymous Coward

    game, set and match?


  7. Cliff

    Gold star for Google

    This is excellent news for HTML5, if browsers get behind a standardised codec for the <video> tag. Somebody had to do it, and this is absolutely the least evil thing they've done in years.

    It'll piss off Adobe bigtime, mind.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Adobe are going to roll VP8 support into Flash

      so presumably they're not that pissed off

    2. Tom 35

      Not so sure

      "It'll piss off Adobe bigtime, mind."

      They can switch Flash from H264 and save some cash.

  8. Charlie Clark Silver badge


    Don't think Google will worry about patents on this. They've probably waited so long for the release to have that checked and co-ordinated with Opera on the release. By comparison with the ongoing Viacom case, where they are obviously guilty any patent action is small beer.

    H.264 still leads on hardware acceleration but AMD and NVidia probably quite happy to add support asap as they often come out worse in patent wars.

  9. Squirrel

    today I <3 google

    nice one! well played that man! here have cookie, I baked it myself...

  10. cramleir


    Word on the street is that Microsoft too will support this codec. Guess this leaves apple

    1. Rob Beard
      Gates Halo

      Codec support

      Looks like they'll support it if the VP8 codec is installed. I get the impression they won't bundle it with the browser but if you happen to have it anyway (oh I dunno, maybe if it is bundled with something else) then they will support it in IE9. That's got to be better than a kick in the teeth I guess if you're forced for some god awful reason not to use anything other than IE and I guess it's a kind of compromise for Microsoft.

      Can we have a flying pigs icon now please?


    2. L1feless


      That is the real kicker here. Good ol' Steve has been on a rant about standards and what not. Here is a company which is trying to implement a free open standard which really puts Steve at a disadvantage in his argument. I must say I like Google's approach to this. Why try and go after the Apple tree one Apple at a time. Just take a chainsaw and cut it down. I hear apple wood makes for great BBQ.

      A beer on me Google.

  11. Cameron Colley

    I'm fwitened...

    This sounds too good to be true.

  12. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    License free or royalty free?

    Google looks like the good guy in this, but I'm not so sure.

    Is this *real* open source?

    1. Atli

      @John Smith

      ""Is this *real* open source?""

      The source is out there for the public, under the BSD license... so yea.

      They've just spent 120+ million dollars to buy this thing, and then given it away to the public. I would say that earns them the title "Good guy" for at least until the next privacy group gets over-excited.

      The fact that Microsoft just announced sole support for a codec that they themselves have a stake in, and is known to require royalties from everybody who so much as says the name out-loud... Yes, Google is the good guys, and Microsoft, as per usual, is the bad guy. (And Apple, as well, seeing as they are in the same boat as Microsoft in this fight... for now.)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        Hmmmm. Ever known a greedy, profit grubbing organisation to suddenly do something "good" for everyone else that in some large way doesn't benefit them more (in fact the benefit they receive I would argue is almost always the motivating factor to act in some way, and the side benefit is that others might benefit too).

        They must be paying money to encode their videos in H.264, which this new codec will not require, so they save money in the future, if everyone goes with this and they can dump H.264?? I'm curious to know what others think here.

        The other point I want to make is that I don't believe Apple will be harmed here. This codec isn't ubiquitous (yet) and may never make it (patent lawyers are lining up to file lawsuits I'm sure). At any rate Apple has said open standards - why on earth would they not support this at some point? I can't think of a reason - it doesn't conflict with their strategy or anything they've said. If the world moves to this new format, they'll support it.

        1. kissingthecarpet

          Big PR Win

          Surely the PR must be almost worth the money, & after all they did get On2 for the cash, not just 1 codec. Also Google make so much money already they don't have to make a cash profit on everything they do. There are other ways to run a business than Ballmer's

        2. Atli


          Who said Google wouldn't profit from this in some way? Does the fact that Google *might* make some money of this too (eventually) make it any less of a win for the rest of us? No. -- Regardless of how Google will spin this in their favor, we now have an Open-Source, royalty-free video codec to compete with the H.264 codec, and nothing Google may gain from this move will change that.

          kissingthecarpet has a good point too. This is a major PR gain for Google. They've just (yet again) made a huge impression on the Open-Source, and web-development, communities, which are the groups that drive their open vision of the web, and help contribute to their various Open-Source projects.

          And it's curious to see how you've made Google out to be a "profit grubbing" corporation, while apparently buying into everything Apple says. Apple and Microsoft have proven themselves, many times over, to be the "profit grubbing" types, while Google's main folly is their "open" interpretation of privacy issues. -- Keep in mind that most of what Apple and Microsoft produce cost hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars for consumers, while most of what Google produces is free for consumers. (They do of course make money of them, but at no cost to the consumers.)

          I'm not saying Google doesn't have it's dark, uber-capitalist moments, but they pale in comparison to Apple's, and particularly Microsoft's.

  13. John Sanders


    Yes, Yes, YES!

    If MS and Apple do not jump boat, there will be open source add-ons for IE/Safari in no time. People is used to install the flash player, why not the "defacto" open standard codec?

    And if they (MS or Apple) play nasty, we can always install FF/Opera :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D

    One way or another Adobe losses, and as I predicted long ago, if Flash is to survive on the long term, they better opensource the player, sooner rather than later. The silver light is comming for them.

    Good times ahead for video on the web!

  14. Miek

    A Title is probably required

    "Despite Google's move, the future of web video is still unclear. Apple and Microsoft have backed the patented H.264 standard and have no intention of moving to an open codec"

    the future of web video is looking a lot clearer to me. It's not unusual for companies to back away from prior backings, such as the Toshiba HD DVD format war.

  15. MarkOne
    Thumb Up

    Next up... Microsoft...

    Just leaves Apple and Safari (which nobody uses anyway).

  16. Osvaldo
    Thumb Up

    I don't any patent dangers

    WebM is On2's VP8, a commercial codec that was in the market for almost 3 years, and licensed to several customers of the former On2. I guess the patent shitstorm would have already rained. Also, Google's lawyers have certainly done due dilligence on the patent issue as preparation for the WebM launch. And if somebody sues, Google most certainly has the legal/financial resources to defend their position. (They will probably keep selling patent indemnification contracts to big companies willing to use VP8 even now that it's open source.)

    1. 46Bit


      The issue (or perhaps more widely spouted theory, this isn't my idea) here is that whilst it was a commercial codec and no major threat to the rest of the market's royalty fees, there was no interest in the effort to kill it by actively buying up patents and studying others for possible use. WebM is currently in 1 day set for use on many internet sites - not sites that need DRM'd content to pretend that people can't steal it, but ordinary video streaming at least - and this means that, especially with Flash about to support/encourage WebM as well so taking away many DRM'd streaming sites, the potential for license fees for H.264 creators is severely slashed if not almost completely eliminated. They'll all have a particular interest in teaming up to use as many patents as they can to kill it.

      The major hope here is that Google's had lawyers looking at patents for months and already has a defence already in the offing - which is likely to say the least bearing in mind how much they paid for the company in the first place and that rumour has long suggested that open web video was the major/only reason for the purchase.

  17. marschw

    But is it any good...

    Here's a pretty in-depth and lukewarm review of vp8, saying that its spec is basically a scaled-down h264, and the reference code is pretty amateur:

    Of course, it's from someone who's spent a lot of time developing an h264 implementation, so take it with a grain of salt, but much of it does appear rather damning.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Great link, thanks for that

      there do seem to be some major problems at the moment. Of course, the actual image quality isn't going to be so important for videos of teenagers trying to castrate themselves using bicycles and common garden furniture

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Microsoft: "Never Say Never"

    Seems Micrsoft have changed their stance from "H.264 only". to "Never say Never".

    I think they realize despite them wanting to control the web, they no longer have that ability (they abandoned IE for too long).

  19. Chronos

    Dazed and confused.

    Ain't ambivalence a bitch? On the one hand there's privacy and on the other there's a huge kick up the arse for the patents-in-standards mob.

    Well done, Google. Even I can't knock this move.

    Troll, because there will surely be some kicking around brandishing patents before this is all over.

  20. jaduncan
    Thumb Up

    FOSS Licence

    "Google looks like the good guy in this, but I'm not so sure.

    Is this *real* open source?"

    Yes, it's under BSD.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      That is good news

      Thanks for this Google. I don't say that very often but we should give credit where credit is due.

  21. Richard Jukes


    They have done it to sink Apple as a closed system model, eg only aproved software and apple ads. Also it will save them a shed load in bandwidth. And earn a shit load of goodwill.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      What _are_ you wittering on about?

      the HTML5 video spec battle has nothing to do with Apple's war on Flash, and it seems that a WebM encoded file will be all but the same size as its H.264 equivalent. Oh, and just in case you'd missed it, Google already puts plenty of ads everywhere.

      Still, one word of your title was accurate.

  22. Lou Gosselin

    This is great news.

    An open and free codec makes the most sense for the global interchange of media.

    Still, the skeptic in me says "wait and see". There's no guarantee that following events will follow a common sense approach . It wouldn't be the first time backroom wheelin and dealin overrides public interest in the interests of personal profit. Also, as much as I wish it weren't so, the state of software patents is such that it is statistically improbable that On2's technology does not unknowingly infringe on other patents

    1. Charles 9

      But WebM is ITSELF patented.

      Google's announcement means it's going in the same boat as Ogg Theora: royalty-free. Anyone trying to sink WebM would require patents made before those of VP8--submarine patents, IOW. And that's risky for MPEG-LA since attempting a submarine patent suit may result in collateral damage: MPEG-LA's own patent pool being compromised.

      1. Lou Gosselin

        @But WebM is ITSELF patented

        Yes, I'm well aware VP8 is patented. But there's no way to know whether On2's patents are the only ones which apply.

        According to a quick search VP8 was released late 2008. This means it could infringe on any patents up until that point, even pending patents. There's no way for anyone to know, including google, whether this codec infringes.

        Does MPEG-LA produce any products at all? If they are merely patent trolls, then there is no risk to them of being sued or counter sued. Although indirectly I suppose they might care since their constituencies might be at risk.

  23. cynic 2
    Jobs Halo

    Early days

    The action now moves to the hardware side. After all, one reason Apple's fond of H.264 is the battery implications of moving to a software codec on iPhone and iPads. I wonder what's going to be available in a year or two?

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up


    Well done Google, your not all evil.

    Apple and Micrshaft can suck eggs.

    1. Anonymous Coward



      You think Google's motivations were benevolent? Give me a break! It was profit motivated, pure and simple, don't for a moment think they are suddenly doing things because they're good for us.

      The comment about Apple and Microsoft - I don't get it. Are you creating a war that doesn't exist? Or fanning the flames of a fire that hasn't started yet? WTF?

  25. Ben Tasker

    Future Unclear???

    You say the future of web video remains unclear, I don't think so. Think about it, what video site has everyone heard of?


    What do MS and Apple offer in terms of online video? Nigh on Fuck all.

    I'd imagine Users are going to be pretty pissed if they visit youtube and find that they can't watch certain vids because MS are backing a different technology. Especially when Google inevitable posts a handy page explaining to those users why they can't view it in IE/Safari, and offers browsers that will work.

    OK there is the question of what other sites will use, but I'd say that as long as you are using the same technology as Youtube, most users will be able to view your content. So logically, most sites will go down the VP8 route, especially as they can do it for free (Keeping in mind that the opposition is _not_ free for commercial use).

    I hesitate to say the battle is won, but it's looking a bit one sided now

    1. 46Bit


      Whilst I agree with the sentiment, I presume YouTube's videos will be served in Flash for those without support for this for years - after all, Adobe's supporting it in Flash - so people without support will still be able to see the videos for a long while.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Quote: "Apple and Microsoft have backed the patented H.264 standard and have no intention of moving to an open codec, arguing that such codecs would be subject to patent suits."

    I don't believe either company has argued against open codecs per se, but specifically against Ogg Theora. This is a very specialised field, so it's difficult to make an informed judgement on the subject. Apple has embraced a wide variety of codecs into its software, and it wouldn't surprise me if it embraced WebM too - provided its lawyers give the green light.

    In general, open source projects need to make sure they aren't just riding on the coat-tails of commercial R&D, i.e. that they genuinely break new ground, or the whole movement will start to look parasitic. Real breakthroughs take a huge amount of effort to bring to fruition - "1% inspiration, and 99% perspiration" - and it's essential that people are rewarded for making that effort. For example, how much did it cost to develop the h264 codec? Are the proposed royalties unreasonable compensation for tis effort? Please don't blast me for simply asking the question - I don't have figures to answer the question.

  27. Neil 7
    Jobs Horns

    Give it a couple of months

    for the WebM enabled Opera and Firefox browsers to bed in and become commonplace, then Google should bin H.264 support in YouTube. Keep Flash support for "legacy" browsers.

    Game. Fecking. Over.

    The Reg needs a "Google Halo" icon, but this one will do.

  28. bruceld


    It's the egos, greed and copyright ownership that slowing down the innovation of the interweb.

    Let's face it, Apple iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad are crippled and won't run Flash because it apparently sucks and Steve Jobs is only looking out for us (as we find out later Steve Jobs is create a competing product which will no doubt be patented and licensed out for a fee). Microsoft is so desperate for the fame spotlight that they partner up with the media corporations gladly allowing DRM in their WMC product but won't allow DivX/XviD support, etc. Neither company would ever give away something for free if it meant creating more balance in the technological ecosystem, at least not without profiting from it and adding to their ego.

    This is cool that Google has done this. It'll be interesting to see where this leads. I always like how Apple and Microsoft think that sun rises and sets at their command. Well big boys, apparently no one is big enough to fuck with Google.

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So Google is giving up on the "Mobile Web" then?

    VP8 isn't going to appear on mobile phones or set top boxes, or even *Pads anytime soon. AMD and Nvidia can do all the hardware acceleration they want, but that'll only make a difference on hardware that can probably get by without it, but how much silicon from AMD and NVidia goes into mobile devices and set-top boxes?

    Unless the reference to "greater than 720" means that Google is going to use h.264 for "small format" devices, and VP8 for devices with big screens (the vast majority of which will get by without hardware acceleration for the time being). Which has the advantage that they don't have to waste as many CPU cycles compressing the submitted video to the smaller sizes (they've already got hardware doing that for h.264).

    Interesting "Divide and Conquer" strategy - leave h.264 for where it's already gt a big lead, and try to take ownership of the "large format" field with the new codec.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Not at all

      Check the list of hardware supporters. It includes most of the embedded processor manufacturers and the designer of the most common embedded 3D graphics core. It won't be long before embedded hardware support is available. I bet TI are working on the DSP code to give current OMAP devices accelerated playback right now, and the churn rate in phones is such that people will soon upgrade to the new hardware anyway.

  30. MarkOne

    IE9 to support VP8 (Confirmed)

    Microsoft's words:

    "In its HTML5 support, IE9 will support playback of H.264 video as well as VP8 video when the user has installed a VP8 codec on Windows."

    I would say "Apple, your move", but it's already game over and irevellent what Apple want or do.

    1. Nuno

      not really

      "it's already game over and irevellent what Apple want or do."

      Apple started this by not allowing Flash on iPad/iPod/iPhone. They want html5 only, and they enforce it by not allowing other browsers. In the same way, if they don't want it, they will never allow the VP8 codec inside those devices.

      On the other hand, who cares...

  31. shawnfromnh


    I can't say this isn't great news for people in support of an internet that doesn't cost you $ just to post a home video.

    I also think this was a great business move for Google. If everyone that encoded a video had to buy an H264 encoder. That would mean a lot of either illegally encoded video's on You tube and Google doesn't need that headache chasing down illegally encoded video's. It would also mean a lot less video's also which would mean a lot less ad views for Google.

    One point for Google bitch slapping the taste out of MS's mouth.

  32. Rattus Rattus

    Take that, MPEG-LA!



    ah, sorry, don't know what came over me there. I'd like to applaud Google for this move, and may I just add a small "w00t!"

  33. Ray Simard
    Thumb Up

    Raise your glasses (and thumbs) high!

    If, as it is, VP8 is covered by the BSD license, then it's a done deal: it's open and royalty-free.

    As for patent encumbrances: It's pretty well known by now that the wind blows where the money goes. MS and Apple can't play the intimidation game with Google that patent-holders have learned to use to threaten smaller firms into unwarranted settlements and cross-licensing agreements.

    Theoretically, Google could change their minds and strap YouTube with H.264 or something, but now, why should they? They'd have one hell of a firestorm to deal with and no justification to claim. Adobe's newly-announced support for VP8 is one more reason.

    It will be interesting to see how VP8 performs against H.264. I doubt there will be a problem with that. Theora may have lagged somewhat behind H.264 in that department, but not by all that much, and Theora is practically VP8's ancestor. It being so, one could realistically, if a bit loosely, refer to VP8 as the improved Theora many hoped for.

    This isn't just a victory for web video: it's a victory for the Internet itself. MS and Apple can still refuse to support anything but H.264, but now it will be a whole lot harder to get away with it. They'll be on the defensive without a defense.

    Chalk up a big one for the good guys!

  34. Bob H

    hardware support

    Hardware support only begins with the graphics cards in computers. The real challenge for this codec will be seeing if they can get it supported in embedded silicon from the likes if ST Micro and Broadcom.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Already done..(almost)

      Broadcom announced today that their Videocore mobile graphics processor will support WebM by Q3. Since I sit next to the team who are implementing it that sounds about right. (Check out Videocore 4, BRCM2763). Since H264 is already supported, that means mobiles will be able to do everything in HW- perhaps before their desktop brothers!!

  35. Prag Fest

    Whoa there

    Before everyone gets carried away, is it actually any good next to h.264, which is a pretty impressive bit of tech? Word on the street says no.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      There are a colossal number of setting/features in H264 which can be turned on/off to improve quality/bitrate/size, so its quite possible to set up H264 to have an almost perfect image - but at the expense of bitrate and size. Same for WebM. When comparing, make sure it's like for like (bitrate, quality, size).

  36. MarkOne

    @Prag Fest

    If by word on the street, you mean word from someone that's heavily biased towards H.264..

    Do you seriously believe that Google paid $125m for something that was crap? Do you really believe the rantings of some upset blogger?

    1. The First Dave


      Please, remind me how much Google paid for YouTube, which continues to be a drain on their revenues?

      Not that anyone would ever describe YouTube as being 'crap' would they?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "Do you seriously believe that Google paid $125m for something that was crap?"

      I certainly believe that it's not altogether beyond the bounds of possibility

  37. Mark Wilcox

    Theer's already NEON support too

    For those asking about mobile hardware support, even at the low end this should run reasonably well on devices released in the next year or two. It's already got optimisations for the NEON instructions for newer ARM cores, which really blurs the line between "software" and "hardware" codecs. It won't be quite as high performance or power efficient but taking into account the lower screen resolutions toward the lower end of the range, it shouldn't be a big problem.

  38. Tom 13

    No opinion on the relative technical merits of the competing codecs,

    but it looks like pure FUD for MS and Apple to raise the patent troll issue. H264 is as likely to be sued by patent trolls as WebM, and then everybody using H264 is just as liable as if they were using WebM. Adding their names and patent arsenals to the WebM standard would decrease the WebM liability to the trolls. So it is pure FUD.

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