Mozilla: We'll keep pushing for Ogg Theora in HTML 5

The software maker with the ability to rectify everything for the open source community in the field of free video is Google. Right now, its YouTube division relies upon Flash video, whose codecs require Web browsers including Google's own Chrome to have plug-ins installed. If YouTube merely had the option of supporting an open source standard such as Ogg Theora -- a standard supported by sites including France-based DailyMotion -- in one fell swoop, the balance might shift in favor of Ogg's being adopted, as was originally planned, as the basic codec for HTML 5's <VIDEO> element.

But that project was suspended late last month by HTML 5's principal caretakers, who perceived a stalemate between the proprietors of online videos including Google, the manufacturers of Web browsers who are also interested in maintaining high performance levels, and the rights holders to the various technologies that still underlie modern video codecs. Now Mozilla, whose Firefox 3.5 is the biggest browser so far to include built-in HTML video support, says in a statement to Betanews last night that it will press on with its support of Ogg Theora despite the setback, perhaps in hopes that online video services may come to adopt the codec as a de facto standard.

"While the video element and affiliated API are very useful in their own right without the formal specification including a codec requirement, Mozilla will continue to lobby for the inclusion of Ogg Theora as part of the normative part of the HTML5 specification," Mozilla standards evangelist Arun Ranganathan told Betanews. "Theora is free and of high enough quality-per-bit for use within Web applications. It has been adopted by large-scale websites including DailyMotion.com, Wikipedia.com, and The Internet Archive (archive.org). The emergence of a common video format on the Web will allow developers to really use the power of the Video API, and it is absolutely part of Mozilla's standards advocacy to ensure a free and reliable video format becomes a part of the Web platform."

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Last month, in online discussions with other members of the W3C's WHATWG working group, Google's representative made the case that if YouTube were to switch over to Ogg Theora, its servers would not be able to manage the bandwidth requirements. The Theora codec used within the Ogg wrapper is based upon technologies that were originally proprietary, developed by a company called On2 Technologies, but then donated to the open source community in 2001. Since 2004, its bitstream format was frozen, in an effort to ensure future renditions remained downwardly compatible.

But some see that move as possibly also ensuring that the format remained non-competitive against H.264, the family of ITU-supported standards that now includes MPEG-4. H.264 includes many standards that require license fees, administered by the MPEG LA authority, and that fact alone ensures that its codecs cannot be distributed in a free and open source browser, whose licenses would forbid it.

In light of that stalemate, Mozilla will concentrate its efforts on advancing the use of the <VIDEO> tag in Web pages, as a sort of vigil on the part of Web developers with interests in royalty-free media development.
"The <VIDEO> tag and the video JavaScript API allow developers to treat video as a first-class citizen of the Web," said Ranganathan. "There is great value in the <VIDEO> tag and API, but we are keen to see a common video codec emerge on the Web that is both free to use and of a high quality for Web applications."

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