Mozilla trying to build VP8 into HTML5 video

Google's video codec has significant support, but building it into the standard language for Web pages would advance its fortunes significantly.

Stephen Shankland principal writer
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Stephen Shankland
3 min read

Mozilla is working to incorporate Google's newly released VP8 video technology as part of the specification for Web video.

"That's our hope," said Mozilla Chief Executive John Lilly when asked if VP8 could be built into the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) specification for Web-based video. "We'd love for VP8 to be specified in the HTML5 standard. Once it's in the spec, it can really get better traction from other players."

Making VP8 a standard part of HTML would help assure a brighter future for the technology by encouraging browsers and Web developers to use the technology--and it could help foster more video on the Web that's as simple to add as a JPEG image is today. There are obstacles, though, including patent concerns and the need to sign up browser makers that have expressed a preference for the rival H.264 codec.

The new HTML5 version of the Hypertext Markup Language standard used to describe Web pages includes a tag to easily add video to a Web page without relying on a plug-in such as Adobe Systems' Flash Player. However, because browser makers couldn't agree on which video codec was best, HTML5 doesn't presently specify a particular video technology. That means Web developers wishing to build video into their sites through HTML5 must include different video formats if they want to reach all browsers.

Before last week, there were two main contenders for video encoding and decoding technology--H.264, preferred by Apple and Microsoft, and Ogg Theora, preferred by Mozilla and Opera. Then Google released the VP8 codec, part of the WebM technology that also includes Ogg Vorbis for audio. Not only is VP8 better than Theora by all accounts, offering a much better alternative to H.264, it's also royalty-free and available in open-source form.

Mozilla plans to detail in coming days its plans for trying to get VP8 into HTML5. It's not clear at this stage who its allies are, but securing support will be essential.

"What the spec says will depend entirely on what implementations (in particular browser vendors) decide to support," HTML5 editor Ian Hickson said in an earlier interview. Hickson is involved not just with the W3C but also with another group, the Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group (WHATWG), that's been working to standardize HTML5.

The W3C itself is supportive of the idea of specifying a video codec for HTML5.

"WebM/VP8 has the potential of providing a solution for the baseline video format of HTML5. To be seriously considered by the W3C HTML Working Group, the specification would need to go through a standards group and be developed under RF [royalty-free] licensing participation terms," Philippe Le Hegaret, leader of Web video work at the W3C, said in a statement. "W3C remains interested in having a video format for HTML5 that is compatible with the W3C Royalty-Free Patent Policy."

VP8 isn't a shoo-in. Another hurdle to be overcome will be convincing would-be VP8 supporters that they don't need to worry about potential intellectual-property issues from VP8 patent concerns.

One big browser unknown for VP8 support is Microsoft, which said it will support VP8 if users install it. But if VP8 becomes part of the HTML5 standard, its support could become more active in Internet Explorer 9: "When it comes to HTML5, we're all in. This level of commitment applies to the video codecs that IE9 will support as well," IE General Manager Dean Hachamovitch said in a blog post.

One definite ally is, unsurprisingly, Google itself.

"We're excited by the community's response to the WebM project, and we support efforts to standardize the technology," Google said in a statement.

Updated 10:28 p.m. PDT with Google comment.