Earlier today Google unveiled a new open-source and royalty free video codec for use with online video.

The codec, which Google hopes will become the standard codec for HTML 5 video, will also be supported in Adobe’s Flash plug-in, too.

Why WebM?

The case for a fully “free” codec has long been argued for. Whilst FOSS advocates championed the free lossy Theora codec many web engineers held valid concerns over the quality it provided, the much larger-bandwidth needed to compensate for the lower-quality and lack of hardware acceleration.

On the flip side sat H.264 which, whilst a technically superior codec, had its own set of problems stemming from its proprietary nature – concerning many web advocates who were weary of a patent & royalty encumbered codec once again dampening innovation on the web.

Enter Google with, seemingly, the answer: WebM.

What is WebM?

The WebM codec is made up of: –

  • VP8, a high-quality video codec
  • The open source Vorbis audio codec
  • a container format based on a subset of the Matroska media container

WebM will be supported by all three major browsers: Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox and Opera and is set to make sway in its play to become the de facto standard in online video codec’s not only thanks to the inevitable roll-out of it across YouTube but also simply because of the sheer might of hardware and software companies assembled behind it in support: from Mozilla, Adobe & Google through to AMD, NVIDIA and ARM.

What about Ubuntu?

Linux users in particular will be thrilled to note that Collabora, the core developers and maintainers of the GStreamer multimedia framework and the PulseAudio audio server, worked with Google on ensuring full support for WebM through the Gstreamer framework.

“WebM has the potential to be a landmark project in internet video and we are delighted to be part of the team alongside Entropy Wave and Google,” said Collabora Multimedia director Christian Schaller in a joint press release with Entropy Wave, issued earlier to day.

“By adding WebM support to GStreamer we are ensuring that the millions of Linux Desktops and Linux based devices out there will have access to this crucial open technology.”

Where next?

Time will tell where Microsoft and Apple stand on the issue, but judging by the boons it will have for media consumption on mobile devices – such as the iPhone and iPad – and the ever-bulging list of supporters, it will be hard for Apple or Microsoft to renege on its importance.

Steve Jobs recently warned that “a patent pool is being assembled to go after Theora and other ‘open source’ codecs..”. I can’t help but wonder if he will find that ‘patent pool’ as inviting to dip his toes in come the morning…

WebM is currently supported in the latest Nightly builds of Mozilla Firefox & Opera 10.53. Support for Google Chrome will be available from the 24th of May.

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