Google video effort to be dubbed WebM Project?

Company has registered the WebM Project site, and one video industry insider has heard it will house Google's Web video efforts.

Stephen Shankland Former Principal Writer
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Stephen Shankland
3 min read

It's widely expected that Google will use this week's I/O conference to announce how it hopes to rewrite the rules of Web video by releasing its newly acquired video technology as open-source software.

Now, one analyst has offered a name for the plan: the WebM Project.

Dan Rayburn, a Frost & Sullivan analyst and executive vice president of StreamingMedia.com, said in a blog post Tuesday that he was tipped off about the project name and Web address.

The WebM Project name has an "under construction" Web site that was registered April 28 by Google. Rayburn also said earlier Tuesday that a "long list of video ecosystem vendors" is supporting Google's effort and that Google plans to announce hardware support for its technology.

Here's how this all fits together. In February, Google acquired a company called On2 Technologies, arguing that high-quality video compression technology should be a part of the Web platform. On2 developed an as-yet-unreleased video "codec"--software to encode and decode audio or video--called VP8. (Google is in the process of buying another company, Global IP Solutions, with related technology for videoconferencing and voice over Internet Protocol, too.)

Most often today, Adobe Systems' Flash is the dominant player used to handle Web video, with the H.264 codec under the covers handling the data. Web browser makers, including Apple, Mozilla, Microsoft, Google, and Opera, want to build video directly into Web sites without a plug-in such as Flash through the new HTML5 video specification.

However, HTML5 doesn't specify a particular codec, and the browser makers disagree on which is best. Microsoft and Apple are big fans of H.264. Mozilla and Opera aren't, and they prefer the open-source Ogg Theora codec, which is based on a VP8 predecessor from years ago called VP3. Google's Chrome is on the fence, supporting both Ogg Theora and H.264. So for now, Web developers thinking about using HTML5 video face a lot of uncertainty.

One of the big advantages H.264 has in the market is hardware support. That means chips can decode video directly rather than running software to do it, a process that's slower and consumes a lot more power.

"Numerous sources are telling me that Google plans to announce hardware support for VP8. If true, and VP8 does what it On2 claimed it could, the possibility does exist for VP8 to seriously challenge H.264 over time if Google can get enough hardware support, which I think they have a good shot at doing," Rayburn said. "If that happens, we could see a push away from H.264 if Google approaches the market correctly. Without hardware support, VP8 can do well, but it will never disrupt H.264."

Video streaming is a complicated by patents, though. Mozilla's top lawyer argues that Ogg Theora is safe to use in regards to patents. But Microsoft has cast doubts on Ogg Theora, and Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs apparently is considering a patent attack on open-source video codecs.

Although Microsoft is a major patent contributor of the H.264 patents licensed by a group called MPEG LA, Microsoft pays more than twice to MPEG LA for H.264 licensing rights than it receives from the group, the company said.

What is certain is that Google has the power to significantly change the Web video situation. It's got YouTube, a powerhouse of Web video; it's got the Chrome browser, which is increasing in usage; it's got a powerful brand; and perhaps most important, it's got deep pockets and powerful ambitions for trying to thwart hostile patent lawyers.