In an effort to bring its Web video technology to a browser that doesn't support it, Google has released an IE9 plug-in to play WebM video.
The move won't bring an end to the industry scuffle over the best way to build video into the Web, but it will mean that allies behind Google's preferred mechanism will be able to reach beyond the three browsers that support WebM today, Google's Chrome, Opera Software's Opera, and Mozilla's Firefox. Apple's Safari and Microsoft's brand-new IE9 support the rival H.264 video codec (though IE9 requires Windows 7 or an updated version of Windows Vista).
"They said elephants couldn't ride flying dolphins. They said that one of the world's most popular browsers couldn't play WebM video in HTML5. They were wrong," Google said on the download page for the plug-in, which at this stage is just a technology preview. The unofficial Google Operating System blog spotted the new software yesterday.
The new HTML5 standard under development includes an ability to embed video directly into Web pages, meaning that in theory they can be shown as easily as JPEG graphics. But because of industry disagreements and licensing, the standard doesn't specify which codec should be used to encode and decode the video. Google, along with allies Mozilla and Opera, prefer Google's WebM video, which uses the VP8 video codec and Vorbis audio codec.
Microsoft has indicated it's not opposed to including WebM support--indeed, its engineers cooperated with Google on making the plug-in--but that it won't because of intellectual property concerns. MPEG LA, the group that licenses a pool of patents used by H.264, is doing preliminary work that could lead to a patent pool for VP8 as well. That would be a major disappointment for Google, which wants to lower barriers to use of digital video on the Web by offering WebM royalty-free.
Also to advance WebM, Google yesterday released a version of VP8 that can be build into hardware for accelerated, power-efficient use of the video technology.
Google acquired the VP8 codec through its $123 million acquisition of On2 Technologies last year.
Google of course operates one of the biggest Web video sites, a huge asset in its effort to make WebM relevant. The company has begun coding 720p or higher-resolution videos in WebM, and offers instructions on watching WebM-format videos on YouTube.