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Chrome Hides Its Head in the Sand

posted Sunday Jan 16, 2011 by Scott Ertz

Chrome Hides Its Head in the Sand

Google made a very interesting announcement this week; they will be discontinuing support for H.264, the standard for high definition video, in the next release of their Chrome browser. Google's official Chromium blog stated,

We expect even more rapid innovation in the web media platform in the coming year and are focusing our investments in those technologies that are developed and licensed based on open web principles. To that end, we are changing Chrome's HTML5 video (tag) support to make it consistent with the codecs already supported by the open Chromium project. Specifically, we are supporting the WebM (VP8) and Theora video codecs, and will consider adding support for other high-quality open codecs in the future. Though H.264 plays an important role in video, as our goal is to enable open innovation, support for the codec will be removed and our resources directed towards completely open codec technologies.

What does this mean for you and the Internet? Hit the break to find out.

Removing support for the standard in high definition video from their browser means an even greater delay in the next evolution of Internet standards. Google talks about the openness of WebM, but we all know how that ends up with Google. If it becomes the standard codec accepted by W3C, the governing body for web standards, Google will close up the development and make it an internal Google project.

Google has always been pretty open about their intentions to be in charge of the Internet and this is just another way to make that happen. The back story of these video codecs is pretty muddy. It started when Apple decided to get involved with the H.264 codec and then their subsequent battle with Google. Now we have two companies who dislike each other backing different versions of the same technology. Sounds a lot like the Blu-Ray vs HD-DVD battle, eh?

The difference here is that the wrong people get to choose the outcome. With the HD wars, the winner was chosen by the consumer. No one bought HD-DVD players, so the format was abandoned. Now what we have is the browsers get to choose, kind of. The codec that is most widely accepted by HTML5 enabled browsers will become the standard. Google is trying to sway that statistic in their favor, since they both own the codec and the browser. Interesting move.

On the other hand, Apple is involved in the H.264 codec pretty heavily and they also own a browser - Safari. So, at this point, it comes down to Firefox and Internet Explorer. While IE has the largest marketshare in browsers, it is spread out over a series of versions ranging from 6 to 9. In the statistics that matter here, only 9 will be counted, as it is the only HTML5 enabled browser. IE does not force upgrades like the rest of the browsers do, so their numbers will be based almost entirely on voluntary opt-in upgrades.

So, we are left with Firefox, who has been on the fence about whether to support H.264 in their Firefox 4.0. With Google Chrome dropping support, Firefox might be more inclined to do it as well. That could spell the end of H.264 on the web. While that seems like a loss for the owners only, it isn't. All content owners, such as PLuGHiTz Live!, will be required to re-encode every video they have ever produced to be able to support WebM. Otherwise, we will all stuck still using Adobe Flash for video playback, but that is the opposite of what HTML5 is supposed to do.

We will be having a discussion about this on tonight's PLuGHiTz Live! Radio, so join us at 9PM Eastern for an in-depth discussion about what is to come of this decision.

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