Wikipedia's controversial video player coming soon

According to interview with its video guru, the Web encyclopedia's revamped player is coming very soon. But its format is causing a stir in the open-source community.

Wikipedia users will be getting new tools for uploading, editing, and viewing video very soon. According to a Beet.TV interview with Erik Moller, who is the deputy director of the Wikimedia Foundation, we'll see all of these things shortly. However, what's more interesting is the Web encyclopedia's choice of video formats and how it fits into a fracas in the browser world.

Wikipedia has been working on video support for years, and is putting considerable effort into making it easier for users to upload video--specifically, to bridge a video format divide. Moller says that while Wikipedia is still planning to use Ogg Theora (an open-source video codec that can be played back natively inside the latest version of Firefox, and soon Chrome and Opera) there may be tools that will convert video shot in alternate formats so that no special software, or user effort is required.

In the meantime, Wikipedia's solution is for users to do that conversion on their end. Moller says that one solution is FireOgg, a Firefox-only browser plug-in which can transcode user videos to Ogg Theora on the user's hardware.

One issue that still lingers with Wikipedia's slow move to video is its choice of codec. Codecs are the software modules that encode and decode audio and video, shrinking it down into sizes that can be more easily transmitted through the Web. Wikipedia's a large and very popular site, meaning whatever video format it's using will have a big impact on the Web and its standards. Wikipedia's choice to go with Ogg Theora puts further stress on where browsers and site creators alike stand on HTML 5 video, which is emerging as a hotly-contended Web standard.

Unlike the H.264 codec, which has been promoted in both Google and Apple's products and services, Ogg Theora allows for downloading, remixing, and re-uploading without licensing fees. On the other hand, much of today's computing hardware (including newer mobile devices) comes equipped with on-board H.264 decoding, meaning less processing power is spent playing back the videos.

Microsoft, Apple, and Google have been less avid about promoting the Ogg Theora format in their browsers, and have put resources behind H.264 instead. Google's Chrome, in fact, supports it (along with H.264), however Google has gone on the record as saying its quality was not as good as it wanted. Google has also sunk considerable resources into re-encoding YouTube's entire library of videos into H.264, making the company less likely to switch camps.

Regardless, Web video has come a long way since earlier standards and competing formats. Pioneers like Macromedia (now Adobe) with its Flash format, and Apple and its streaming QuickTime standard have helped pave the way for a bevvy of start-ups that rely on the latest codecs to create new and salable parts of their businesses. The big question is whether open-sourced codecs like Ogg Theora will have that same kind of sticking power. Being the go-to format on one of the Web's most popular sites certainly won't hurt.

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