Video on the web
Thursday, July 9, 2009 6:36:58 PM
I am really glad that I played a small part of this (helped creating a plan for what to implement the video tag in a demo, to be sure that we could meet Håkon's really tight deadline to make it work before he was going to do the speech above). Two of our developers worked hard, and the deadline was met.
With W3C adopting HTML 5, and HTML 5 including video and audio tags, Håkon's push turned out to be very successful. I didn't expect that to happen, but I kept my fingers crossed. And Mozilla decided to implement it as it was meant to be, with Ogg Theora and Ogg Vorbis.
However, Mozilla was not first to implement the video/audio tags, Apple released Safari 4 with support. It is using QuickTime to do the actual decoding, and they support a number of formats out of the box, but not Ogg Theora or Ogg Vorbis.
The current working copy of HTML 5 says nothing about which decoders to include, which makes it hard to pick the right ones.
Ok, back to Opera, you might have seen that we are working on an implementation of the video/audio tags according to the actual specification, an we will release it when it is ready, and old Opera tradition.
We have 5 major browser makers in the world today, Microsoft, Mozilla, Apple, Google, and Opera. 2 of them (Mozilla and Opera) are trying to push Ogg Theora and Ogg Vorbis, to make sure that we can have a royalty free web. It does not really have to be Ogg Theora, Dirac or any other royalty free format would be an as good alternative, but since Mozilla has decided to do what they can to help improve Ogg Theora, it is rather obvious which royalty free format to support.
I don't know much of decoders, but if I could select one official video decoder for the web, it would have to be a royalty free, and my order would be H.264 (if it becomes royalty free), Dirac (since I find the simplicity of the format interesting, and I have an unread book about Wavelets), and Ogg Theora in third place.
So, why is Mozilla and Opera so focused on a royalty free web? First of all, W3C's own policy's are clear, their web standards should be implementable royalty free. Then, there is the interoperability case, we want to make sure that content works in all standards-based browsers, on all operating systems. And, then of course, the cost issue for the actual companies. The cost issue is the part I would like to discuss here.
I have not done any exact calculations, but I believe that both Mozilla and Opera could afford paying the really expensive fees for including a H.264 decoder, and still be able to get higher revenue on search than the license cost. But, it would still be a big hit in the revenue stream, and that money could be better used for improving the engines.
So, Mozilla and Opera has two options, include Ogg Theora/Vorbis in the browser, or use the platforms' decoders, if they do not want to pay licence fees. Using the platforms' decoders has several drawbacks, there is no guarantee that a user has the right decoder installed, and the browser might crash because the decoders are not stable enough.
So, what is different with the other 3 companies. One way to look at it is that they like standards less. It is not hard to like standards less than Mozilla and Opera, two companies that have embraced standards completely. But Google likes standards too, and Apple is quite positive, and Microsoft, well they will get there, slowly.
Next thing that differs, these 3 companies are bigger. They can afford to pay licenses. But I do not think that is true, just because a company is large, they do no not want to spend money on things that they could avoid.
But, the difference that I think matters is that Microsoft, Apple, and Google are in the video business. So, if there is a video tag in the browser, they would be able to directly earn money on that, and the cost of H.264 becomes a lesser problem, since video sales could easily cover the license cost. Mozilla and Opera, to my knowledge, have no revenue streams from video.
There is one simple solution, the three that will make the most money on adding the video tag, and that have a number of arguments not to embrace Ogg Theora, make sure that H.264 is offered royalty free for everyone. Thank you!