I’m sure everyone knows that Chrome is dropping h.264 video support for WebM. They claim it will enable “open innovation”. I have a few problems with this.

Firstly, VP8 is probably patented (though it may not be), the algorithms are very similar to the h.264 algorithms, so the MPEG LA may have a claim. Also Google haven’t offered any form of indemnification or analysis to show the patents aren’t infringed. In many cases we’ve seen companies wait for popularity then sue those who can’t defend, one reason GNU doesn’t use GIF.

Secondly, VP8 may be the future, but h.264 is here now. While looking to the future is all well and good, it shouldn’t be at the expense of current usability unless the two are mutually exclusive. The ‘for the future’ argument also falls down with quality comparisons, VP8 and h.264 are of comparable quality, with VP8 falling short at the moment, though that may pick up with more development. VP8 is not a next generation codec, it’s current generation. Arguably VP8 has better peak signal-to-noise ratio (PSNR), but PSNR doesn’t reflect visual quality.

I believe that Google can push WebM in more effective ways. They are working on VP8 hardware acceleration for mobile devices and presumably re-encoding a lot of YouTube content to VP8. I assume they’re also working on WebM support in Flash Player, as once that’s complete non-WebM browsers will have a fallback. All that’s happened in the short term is Chrome users will see h.264 content in Flash Player, rather than in native video, which gives awful playback on Linux. Given Firefox’s performance it seems I’ll be stuck with proprietary browsers if I want performant video playback. Thanks Google.