Robotic Tendencies
The personal blog of Robert McQueen

May 21, 2010

VP8 rumblings

As you all know by now, exciting moves from Google on the WebM project have lead to them open-sourcing On2’s VP8 codec to provide a freely available video codec for HTML5 content. Collabora Multimedia worked with Entropy Wave to add support to GStreamer for the new codec from day 1, and I was really happy yesterday to update my Debian system and get the support installed locally too. Thanks to our and Igalia’s fine work on GStreamer HTML5 support in WebKitGTK+, Gustavo Noronha found it worked out of the box with Epiphany too.

Predictably, the MPEG-LA aren’t too pleased with this, and are no doubt winding up their PR and industry allies at the moment, as well as this opening a new front on the Apple vs Google ongoing platform battle. But if your business model is collecting money through what is essentially a protection racket and spreading FUD about patent litigation, the VP8 license implicitly creating a zero-cost zero-revenue patent pool is not going to be good news for you (from the department of Google deleting your business model). The question is now whether the allure of Google’s content will win over against the legal chest pounding of the patent trolls, and whether they start flipping switches to make YouTube only serve up WebM content after a while.

Also in amazing and incredible news, Collabora’s Telepathy/GStreamer/GNOME/Debian/general R&D guru and staunch Web 2.0 holdout Sjoerd Simons has actually now got a blog after a mere 3 years of us suggesting it to him since he joined Collabora as an intern. He’s been hacking on some RTP payloader elements for VP8 so we can use it for video calling on the free desktop. All very exciting stuff, especially in conjunction with Muji (multi-user video calls over XMPP) support heading into Telepathy thanks to NLNet‘s ongoing support.

posted by ramcq @ 6:13 pm
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3 Responses to “VP8 rumblings”

  1. Sean says:

    Given that the MPEG-LA makes a ton of money from contexts that VP8 is totally worthless for and has zero cash flow for the contexts VP8 is targeted at, I doubt that the MPEG-LA cares all that much. I’m sure they plan on attacking VP8 any way they can just out of principle and opportunity, but in no way is Google going to harm their actual business model. VP8 is only targeted at low to mid quality Internet video streaming, where as .h264 and friends are used for very high quality streaming as well as traditional media and archiving.

    Also, keep in mind that Google’s license does not guarantee zero royalties in the event that VP8 actually is found to be infringing on some patents. Google gives you a grant to use the licenses it owns; it is not legally capable of granting you a license to other parties’ patents. Google does not indemnify WebM license recipients, so a user of VP8 could still be sued by MPEG-LA (assuming that they actually do have patents that cover VP8, of course). It’s probably safe for a hobbyist to assume that Google did its research here, but a corporation might want to wait a while and see if the MPEG-LA has any teeth backing up its bark or not first.

    Honestly, though, the only reason VP8 stands to be interesting at all is that it may bring on a few more companies to the Open Internet Video Club that Theora couldn’t pull in, purely for political and marketing reasons. Perhaps it’s a slightly better codec than Theora, but in the end it doesn’t really do anything for the Internet that Theora didn’t already do. It’s just got Google’s money and reputation backing it up. The problem where several major players said “we’re using .h264 for our tag support, and that’s it” isn’t magically going away just because of VP8/WebM.

    • Sean: Sure, H264 can and will live on in many of the places it’s deployed, and I know Google provides no indemnification, but it’s interesting for more than the reasons you say. If Google start flipping the appropriate switches, there will be a few companies who will end up in the position to choose between allowing their end-users to access Google’s VP8 only content, or a video codec IPR licensing revenue. Other people’s patents might very well be applicable to VP8, and people can (and very most likely will) license those via the MPEG-LA or similar, but if any of those people want to license Google’s IPR on the codec standard themselves, they are obliged not to initiate any litigation or they lose their right to Google’s IPR and are at risk of an incoming lawsuit from Google. So for people who want to produce or consume VP8 content, it turns the video codec IPR into something you can pay for, but not make any money from, which adjusts the game slightly and means there’s likely to be more industry backlash and pooling of resources against patent trolls, like the OIN.

  2. [...] I believe the threat is really minimal. You should also read these thoughts of a Gnome developer, these of a Debian developer and the emails on the Theora mailing list. 11 [...]

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