Google open-sources Web video codec; Mozilla, Opera, Adobe sign on

Wednesday afternoon, Google opted for the most daring option available to it: It is making available both the technology and the source code for the VP8 codec it acquired, in its buyout of On2 Technologies, to a separate entity. That entity, the newly formed WebM Project, will then serve as a licensing agent on Google's behalf for the VP8 video codec, the Vorbis audio codec, and the Matroska multimedia container, for royalty-free use, apparently in both free and commercial video.

At least as extraordinary, if not more so, is the new WebM group's list of charter supporters, which could be unofficially dubbed the "Everyone Except H.264 Coalition." Browser makers Mozilla and Opera both appear on this list, along with Adobe, the maker of Flash -- the Web's most prevalent distribution system for streaming video. And on the hardware side, both AMD (parent of ATI) and Nvidia have signed on, along with all the principal players in handheld components: ARM, Freescale, Marvell, TI, and Qualcomm.

Now, not only will VP8 become part of Google's YouTube experiment with HTML 5 -- as the newly launched WebM site confirmed today -- but at least three of the world's top 5 browsers will likely incorporate the WebM portfolio soon, and we can apparently (unless someone pulls that Flash logo off of the WebM site for some reason) expect Adobe Flash to provide the "other" browsers with the WebM support they would lack. It's a deal that literally sews up all the loose ends, and if it works, would completely unify all opposition against the last holdouts for proprietary video on the Web: Microsoft, Apple, and Intel.

In a statement released this afternoon, a Mozilla spokesperson confirmed that organization's participation in the project.

"Until today, Theora was the only production-quality codec that was usable under terms appropriate for the open Web," reads a blog post moments ago from Mozilla chief evangelist Mike Shaver. "Now we can add another, in the form of VP8: providing better bandwidth efficiency than H.264, and designed to take advantage of hardware from mobile devices to powerful multicore desktop machines, it is a tremendous technology to have on the side of the open web. VP8 and WebM promise not only to commoditize state-of-the-art video quality, but also to form the basis of further advances in video for the Web."

Google developed its license terminology for the VP8 codec in WebM based in large part, it says, on the BSD license. An excerpt reads: "Subject to the terms and conditions of the above License, Google hereby grants to You a perpetual, worldwide, non-exclusive, no-charge, royalty-free, irrevocable (except as stated in this section) patent license to make, have made, use, offer to sell, sell, import, and otherwise transfer this implementation of VP8, where such license applies only to those patent claims, both currently owned by Google and acquired in the future, licensable by Google that are necessarily infringed by this implementation of VP8."

That means a licensee can indeed sell implementations of commercial software products that include VP8. This is where Google is now playing with fire, as the company's rights to do so may be challenged, as Betanews learned last month. Rights holders to video technology may claim that neither Google nor anyone else has the right to give away basic concepts that On2 at one time did have, or may have had, the right to sell.

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