It’s been a long time coming: Google’s prior purchase of On2 has lead to the open-sourcing of an H.264 competitive codec.
Regardless of the technical pros and cons, from a market perspective, there’s definite good news about VP8. Before today, HTML5 supporters had to futz over codec drama. Now, VP8 has a shot at becoming the dominant web video standard.
But why is that good news?
Now, people looking to create more rich interactive web-like experiences don’t have to fret (as much) over which browser supports what standard. Content creators and media companies can begin to explore how video can become a more integrated part of the web. That means video can interact with the page better, can be tracked better, and, by extension, can likely be monetized better.
Since all of the so-called “open browser vendors” are on board for supporting the format, and current online video monolith Adobe can provide support for any “other browser,” like Safari and IE, developers can create experiments and new online video experiences which other people can actually see and use. Microsoft has said it won’t provide VP8 support out of the box, but will enable it if users choose to install the software. Today’s announcement paves the way for some of these demos to work regardless of which browser is used.
The bad news about VP8? It’s not a sure thing, and for the near term, confuses the marketplace further. Since content creators will need to create two separate versions of videos, one for the web, one of mobile devices, it might muddy the adoption of the codec. And regardless of content creators’ wishes, H.264 will rule the roost in the mobile device space for years, simply because there’s no hardware decoding for VP8 yet.
Worse yet, Apple has little incentive to support VP8 in their mobile devices. Unless, that is, all-powerful YouTube pulls the plug on H.264 support all together, which we don’t expect. Google hasn’t been known traditionally for strong-arm tactics, and punishing iPad / iPhone owners doesn’t seem right, but never say never.
The real unanswered questions: Will Google be evil? Will it strong-arm competitors for the “greater good” of open formats? How quickly will content creators start using VP8?
Whatever the case, web video is poised to expand outside of the simplistic path pioneered by YouTube, and into something more interesting and creative. And more importantly for Google, this is a test as to whether they have the muscle to overpower their increasingly hostile fruit friends in Cupertino, and open the web further.
Randall Bennett dreams in web video. His projects, including Justin.TV and TechVi, are trying to take web video and push it past “TV on the web.” He recently launched VidPlusPlus.com, a site devoted to iterating web video past its current place. Get in contact with him by emailing randallbennett[at]techvi.com.
This post was originally published on the author’s blog and is republished here with permission.
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