Google has introduced a free video codec for web sites. WebM is intended to replace the H.264 format that is currently being used by many online services, but smartphones will require new processors to be able to play the new format well.
H.264 is an open standard, but companies that use it in their products have to pay patent licensing royalties to the companies that developed the standard.
At the Google I/O conference yesterday, Google announced a free alternative: WebM. Previously known as VP8, it was created by On2, a company that Google purchased earlier this year. For the past decade, On2 has been offering video technologies that had been used in products such as Flash Player and Skype.
The WebM codec will be available for companies and individuals to use without a fee.
H.264 vs. WebM
Google is going to build WebM into its very popular YouTube service, and with the backing of Google, it’s likely many other websites will use the format to stream videos.
Moving to a new video format won’t be an issue for desktops and laptops, as it will simply require some new software. But smartphones are different.
Mobile devices require special hardware to handle video well, and current processors aren’t designed to work with WebM in the way they support formats like H.264. Without hardware acceleration, playing video in Google’s new format on a smartphone will put a tremendous strain on the device, reducing performance and battery life.
The next generation of processors will almost certainly include WebM support – Broadcom has already announced support for this format in its mobile chips – but that won’t help users of current devices.
Still, Google intended to add support for the new video format to the next version of the Android OS (code named “Gingerbread”), which is scheduled for release in Q4.