Google Announces WebM Video Format: The Future of HTML5 Video?

Among the announcements made at today's Google I/O keynote is WebM, a new open-source, royalty-free video format based around the VP8 codec intended for use with HTML5 video. The WebM project's goal is to develop "a high-quality, open video format for the web that is freely available to everyone." The project has the backing of Google, Mozilla, Opera, and numerous other companies. If it catches, on, it could settle the rift that currently exists with HTML5 video support, thus speeding up HTML5 adoption.

Currently, there are two competing formats being used for video embedded using HTML5: H.264 (backed by Apple and other companies) and Ogg Theora (backed by Mozilla). Safari, Chrome, and other browsers support H.264 video, as will the upcoming Internet Explorer 9. On the other hand. Mozilla Firefox supports only Ogg Theora video.

Mozilla cites licensing concerns with H.264 as its justification for going with the free Ogg Theora format. MPEG-LA, the group that oversees the H.264 format, says that it won't charge licensing fees for use of format for Web video. However, this free-for-Web-video arrangement lasts through only 2016; after that, it's up to MPEG-LA to decide whether to charge for H.264 or to keep it free.

On the other hand, some have raised concerns over Ogg Theora's quality; at least one comparison shows that using H.264 may result in higher quality streaming video.

WebM may bring some sanity to the situation. A MacRumors report states that, "it is unknown at this time whether Apple will support WebM in its Safari browser, although it appears likely it will given the strength behind the new format." Me, I'm a big fan of HTML5 and what it'll let Web designers do, so I'm hopeful that WebM will help HTML5 become more mainstream.

Update: Mary Jo Foley reports that Microsoft will support VP8 in IE9, meaning that WebM video should work with it. As one of my fellow GeekTechers put it, "Your move, Apple."

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