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Media Mozilla Technology

Oh, What a Lovely Standards War 400

Posted by timothy
from the enhance-enhance-compress dept.
ChiefMonkeyGrinder writes "You know something big must be afoot when people start to get worked up over video compression standards. Basically, the issue is whether the current de facto standard, H.264, will continue to dominate this field, and if not, what might take over." Related, reader eihab writes "Nuanti, a company that develops Web browsing technologies, has produced a high-performance Ogg Theora decoder for Microsoft's Silverlight browser plugin. Nuanti's Highgate Media Suite will enable support for standards-based HTML5 video streaming with Theora in browsers that have Silverlight. It works entirely without requiring the users to install any additional software."
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Oh, What a Lovely Standards War

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  • by wealthychef (584778) on Friday February 05, 2010 @08:09PM (#31041408)

    It works entirely without requiring the users to install any additional software."

    Except, of course, a browser that has Silverlight. :-|

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by ElusiveJoe (1716808)

      I have an idea, this could be implemented in Flash, too... oh, wait.

      • Indeed, as been mentioned in this thread, Theora support could be very easily added to any browser supporting NPAPI plugins for Flash, Java or *Light.

        Let me know when there's an app for that!

         

      • by SmallFurryCreature (593017) on Saturday February 06, 2010 @07:59AM (#31044794) Journal

        Nah... java applets, trust me, it will WORK! This time...

        Reminds me of a comment on a dutch tech site, remarked how much smarter a dutch tv station was, for choosing silverlight over flash, because it was more widely supported, except that particular function just happens to only be available for windows.

        Silverlight may or may not be good, but after ActiveX and COM and such, why do people keep building their business model on an MS product? You know that sooner or later they will pull a move that screws you.

        It would be like putting a bet on Apple announcing a sensible, non-sexy, non-drool inducing, cheap and essential item. Or IBM doing anything interesting in the consumer market. I don't know about leopards, but I do know companies never change their spots.

    • by samkass (174571) on Friday February 05, 2010 @09:27PM (#31042022) Homepage Journal

      So other platforms will have native, hardware-accelerated, high-quality h.264, and the open-source community will be stuck with emulated, software-only, lower-quality Theora. That doesn't sound like a good outcome, despite the solution to compatibility concerns.

  • Eww... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 05, 2010 @08:09PM (#31041412)

    ...Silverlight

    it's just as bad as flash only from an even scummier company.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The only video codec that every browser can use at the moment is Ogg Theora. Unlike H.264, there are no costs involved beyond implementing support for it in your browser and there are no licencing issues that prevent distribution. Firefox, Opera, and Chrome currently support Ogg Theora. It's a shame that Safari and IE won't support it by default in the near to medium term.

    It will be interesting to see what Google does once they own On2 Technologies. They may choose to open source the VP8 codec so every brow

  • by jroysdon (201893) on Friday February 05, 2010 @08:26PM (#31041546) Homepage

    For now, the Video for Everyone code hack [roysdon.net] is the solution. Works on Firefox, Opera, and Chrome natively with Ogg Theora, and Safari natively with H.264, and Internet Explorer with Flash (loading the H.264 content).

    Naturally the best solution would be that everyone implements Ogg Theora as a standard fall-back solution, and use their "better/proprietary" solution when available.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by rsborg (111459)

      For now, the Video for Everyone code hack is the solution. Works on Firefox, Opera, and Chrome natively with Ogg Theora, and Safari natively with H.264, and Internet Explorer with Flash (loading the H.264 content).

      Great, now just go tell YouTube, Vimeo, etc. to convert all their terabytes (probably exabytes) of H.264 content into Theora... I'm sure they wouldn't mind double the work and storage requirements.

    • This solution requires the installation of Flash or Quicktime for h.264 videos. Sucks almost as much as the Silverlight option. I hold out hope that Mozilla will choose to support h.264. Otherwise, I may finally switch to Chrome & Safari.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by KiloByte (825081)

        Mozilla CAN'T support h264, at least not in countries with broken patent law (US, Germany, UK, Japan).

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by NatasRevol (731260)

          They sure can. They can buy the license(s).

          They choose not to for various reasons.

          There's a huge difference.

          http://weblogs.mozillazine.org/roc/archives/2010/01/video_freedom_a.html [mozillazine.org]

    • For now, the Video for Everyone code hack is the solution.

      Your solution only solves the problem for users, not for those who wish to host video content, and can still potentially end up in a situation where they have to re-encode all their video in 2016. Any "solution" for today which can cause problems in six years is not a good solution.

      • by jroysdon (201893)

        Excellent point. Of course, you'd have it all in Ogg Theora format (Video for Everyone has hosts encoding in both Ogg Theora and H.264), and in 2016 you could always just tell all your users to install the Ogg Theora plugin, install Firefox/Chrome/Opera, or take a hike. That's what users get now with all the Flash requirements anyway.

    • If I understand one of the main arguments of Theora supporters correctly, the problem is that H.264 requires website owners to pay up for a license, eventually. So you can use Flash/Silverlight/Java/... to provide "kinda seamless" H.264 support for the end users, including those with otherwise FOSS browsers, but content publishers are still SOL.

      In contrast, doing the same trick for Theora means that those who care about pure FOSS can have it that way (FOSS server, FOSS client, and no patent fees), while peo

      • In contrast, doing the same trick for Theora means that those who care about pure FOSS can have it that way (FOSS server, FOSS client, and no patent fees), while people at large who don't know the world outside IE can still have access to all that content.

        However, the technical inferiority of Theora is a serious counter-argument to that.

        Not only that, this is not a solution that works out of the box. If it doesn't work out of the box, then it won't find itself added to all boxes, especially for company desk

        • Not only that, this is not a solution that works out of the box. If it doesn't work out of the box, then it won't find itself added to all boxes, especially for company desktops.

          No solution at present works out of the box, and this won't change anytime soon, as IE doesn't support the HTML5 video element in the first place.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by ClosedSource (238333)

            Since all solutions require a browser, there is no such thing as a an "out of the box" solution anyway. Certainly the ability to have a solution that works on all major platforms is important, but it has nothing to do with packaging.

  • Oh dear... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by shutdown -p now (807394) on Friday February 05, 2010 @08:28PM (#31041560) Journal

    I wish there was a way to mod the original press release as +5, Epic Troll, because that's what it is with respect to Slashdot - it's going to be way more entertaining than the usual (and already somewhat tiresome) Google vs "do no evil" stories. But Microsoft's Silverlight used to enable support for Theora in pretty much all Windows browsers (and specifically IE of all things), while both Google and Apple stand by H.264 - oh my!

    Hold on a second, I've got to fetch the popcorn...

  • by mxs (42717) on Friday February 05, 2010 @08:28PM (#31041566)

    "It works entirely without requiring the users to install any additional software."

    Other than Silverlight. Gee, that solves the problem.

    • by dpilot (134227)

      Likely most people don't install Silverlight any more than they install Windows.

  • Hardware Codec (Score:4, Insightful)

    by vijayiyer (728590) on Friday February 05, 2010 @08:29PM (#31041572)

    Ogg Theora won't become relevant until there are hardware decode chips available. Why would I install Silverlight to play Ogg when I can use HTML5 and H.264 instead? Because someone might charge to develop with the codec after 2015?
    I don't care because the H.264 standard is open even though it's not free.

    • by Draek (916851)

      Ogg Theora won't become relevant until there are hardware decode chips available.

      Much like it happened with MP3 and DivX, right? oh, wait, the hardware decoders appeared *after* they became popular. Funny, that.

      Why would I install Silverlight to play Ogg when I can use HTML5 and H.264 instead?

      Because the owner of the website you're visiting decided he didn't have the money to pay to MPEG-LA for the license, and therefore encoded his videos in Theora only. Remember, the standard doesn't specify both, it specifies *neither*. Some will support both, some will be h.264-only (read: Apple's iTMS), but many others will be Theora-only, and they'll still be HTML5-compliant so

  • Cool. If it works with Moonlight and has decent performance, I'll be more impressed.

  • by Goner (5704) <(nutate) (at) (hotmail.com)> on Friday February 05, 2010 @08:38PM (#31041648) Homepage

    By virtue of the de facto status, it seems like anything that the majority of people use will never be superceded by anything that barely matches or only slightly improves on the de facto standard. From what I've read [reddit.com] Theora is quite bare-bones compared to H.264 and hasn't been designed with hardware decoding in mind.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by pslam (97660)

      By virtue of the de facto status, it seems like anything that the majority of people use will never be superceded by anything that barely matches or only slightly improves on the de facto standard. From what I've read [reddit.com] Theora is quite bare-bones compared to H.264 and hasn't been designed with hardware decoding in mind.

      And if you actually read what you linked [reddit.com] you'll see it immediately debunked. Theora is up to scratch and has been designed with hardware decoding in mind. It's slightly behind H.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by zippthorne (748122)

        When you say "designed with hardware decoding in mind" do you mean that "it would be fairly simple to burn an FPGA to do it" or do you mean that "it can use the features of 'modern' video hardware to decode on the graphics chip" where 'modern' is some value that includes at least one chip that is either available for sale right now, or definitely in production for sale in the near future.

        Because my laptop has a chip that can do h.264, but I'm not buying another laptop just to get theora (although I would lo

  • by shutdown -p now (807394) on Friday February 05, 2010 @08:39PM (#31041658) Journal

    On a more technical side, I found this bit in TFA interesting:

    We'll be releasing a high-performance decoder for Theora video/Ogg Vorbis audio streams that plugs into the Silverlight 3 streaming media abstraction ...

    I know little about Silverlight, only the most general look and feel, and capabilities. Does this mean that it actually has extensible codec framework, that can be extended from managed code (since any SL code has to be managed, so that it can be properly sandboxed - same as Java applets which cannot e.g. use JNI)?

    If so, the next logical question is - can the same thing be done with Flash, architecturally?

    As a side note, this also means that Silverlight CLR JIT produces code that's fast (not just "fast enough", but actually "high-performance", at least if the claims are true) for a video codec, which is quite impressive. I'm not sure you could reach the same levels with ActionScript, due to its inherently dynamic nature, even with Adobe's JIT. But perhaps I'm underestimating the ability of modern JS JIT compilers to do static type inference, and consequent optimization based on that type information?

    Either way, pragmatically, this means that any browser running on Windows will be able to play Theora after installing Silverlight - which, by the way, pops up in "recommended updates" list in Windows Update as soon as you install Windows. While Silverlight plugin is only officially supported on Windows in IE and Firefox, IIRC, I haven't had any problems using it in Opera regularly, and I've seen it work in Chrome, so it does seem to be mostly browser-agnostic.

    It would be very ironic if Chrome running under proprietary Windows and OS X could play Theora, while Chrome on Linux would only support H.264.

    But somehow, I don't think that will matter. Ultimately, Google is the 800-pound gorilla here because of YouTube, and most likely whichever they will go with (and they have already said they want H.264) will become the de facto standard. Apple could probably steal the day, but they stand by H.264 as well...

    • by BZ (40346) on Friday February 05, 2010 @08:42PM (#31041692)

      > It would be very ironic if Chrome running under proprietary Windows and OS X could play
      > Theora, while Chrome on Linux would only support H.264.

      Chrome supports Theora out of the box natively, so I'm not sure what you're talking about...

    • Chrome on Linux supports pretty much any codec that ffmpeg supports, so it's not just limited to H.264 and Ogg.
      • Thanks for clarification, I didn't know that. Do they use ffmpeg directly, or plug into GStreamer, as latest Opera alphas do?

        Also, what do they do on Windows and OS X? Plug into DirectShow and QuickTime?

        It's a shame that Firefox refuses to just pick up whatever codecs the OS offers (specifically because they do not want to provide H.264 support, even indirectly)...

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Vahokif (1292866)
  • by Spy Handler (822350) on Friday February 05, 2010 @08:43PM (#31041712) Homepage Journal
    If they did, everybody could just use that (since it's already on 98% of computers out there) and put a stop to these stupid standards wars.

    They probably wouldn't lose much revenue, if at all... I mean, they've always been giving away the Flash plugin for free. They make all their money from selling content-creating software (Flash CS3) right? That wouldn't change if they open-sourced Flash player. Similar to how Photoshop completely dominates the industry even though anyone is free to make .jpg/.png editing software.
    • by bhtooefr (649901)

      Well, open-sourcing Flash wouldn't help the H.264 situation.

      What about doing a workaround on the patent? Create an H.264 decoder that doesn't use any of the techniques that are patented? Then again, lawyers aren't exactly known for efficient coding, and you'd basically have to use lawyers as your programmers.

    • Would open-sourcing 'Flash' solve the problem? It sounds to be that the codecs are the crucial point.

      Most likely you'd get an open-source plugin but the patent-encumbered codecs themselves would be delivered as binary blobs. This is a dilemma similar to that AMD and Nvidia face in graphics drivers and Sun had with areas of OpenJDK.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      Open sourcing the flash player opens it up to design by committee politics which Adobe doesn't want. They can't sell a new version of CS7 if they can't get all the Flash players to implement the new features. Sun actually got caught by this problem as they've been trying to push JavaFX. JavaFX works great with features introduced in Java 6, but since Apple controls java on the mac, they've been crippled with Java 5 compatibility on Leopard.
  • Nuanti's Highgate Media Suite will enable support for standards-based HTML5 video streaming with Theora in browsers that have Silverlight. It works entirely without requiring the users to install any additional software."
    Makes Steve Job's opposition to Flash look prescient...

  • HTML5 is a markup standard. Where it pertains to video is in the standardization of video-related markup, i.e. the "video" tag, not video formats. W3C has nothing to teach MPEG about video formats. W3C also has nothing to teach MPEG or ISO about standardization, because the Web is a mess of proprietary IE and Flash while MPEG has enabled 20 years of consumer digital video, including the DVD and Blu-Ray. Right now, both QuickTime Player and FlashPlayer play H.264, both iTunes and YouTube are H.264, both Flip

    • by shutdown -p now (807394) on Friday February 05, 2010 @09:03PM (#31041870) Journal

      Now, the video is all in ISO MPEG-4 containers, with ISO H.264 video and ISO AAC audio and is playable on Linux in FlashPlayer and WebKit browsers and other players, and the complaining continues. It is disheartening.

      The complaining continues because Linux users still cannot play video using FOSS solutions, due to licensing fees associated with implementation of H.264. Given the overall Linux philosophy, it's a perfectly valid complaint.

  • Lower their prices. Opera moaned about how extortionate they are. It's reasonable that they should charge something, but make it small. They'll get a lot more cash in the long in the run, and everybody will be happy.

  • http://www.osnews.com/story/22828/MPEG-LA_Will_Not_Change_h264_Licensing [osnews.com]

    mpeg-LA seems to be letting broadcasts go free for the next couple of years. Note that is only for the actual broadcast. They can open a can of whoop ass on various licensing fees whenever they feel it gets entrenched.

    Theora support will have problems from those who really don't want open solutions (Microsoft,Apple).

    So we have an impasse.

    • by SuperKendall (25149) on Friday February 05, 2010 @09:53PM (#31042242)

      mpeg-LA seems to be letting broadcasts go free for the next couple of years. Note that is only for the actual broadcast. They can open a can of whoop ass on various licensing fees whenever they feel it gets entrenched.

      They can, but you know they will not until 2017 (expires in December of 2016). You can plan around and to a date.

      Meanwhile Theora is an unknown patent quantity that may or may not be challenged at any time. It's the schrodinger cat of codecs, so no-one even wants to hold the box much less look inside.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by CSMatt (1175471)

        Except for those of course who can claim to hold patents on AVC and aren't in the MPEG-LA.

        Paying off MPEG-LA only protects you from MPEG-LA. Submarine patents can still surface from anyone not in that organization.

  • by westlake (615356) on Friday February 05, 2010 @08:53PM (#31041808)

    Nuanti has produced a high-performance Ogg Theora decoder for Microsoft's Silverlight

    Hardware accelerated H.264 is in the 10.1 Flash Beta. Silverlight 4 will support Chrome. The "high performance" H.264 player will be everywhere and in everything in the next few weeks or months.

  • Hardware Offload.

    Without you are just another video codec.

  • I guess the title pretty much sums it up, there's now an open source solution for watching videos online and I will most certainly use it. Silverlight or Firefox with flash? Who wants to use closed source software, and Microsoft's EEE plugin or that horrible plugin from Adobe of all things? Not me. At least we're replacing the closed nonfree video with open nonfree video.

  • by Required Snark (1702878) on Friday February 05, 2010 @11:20PM (#31042824)
    A few years ago I worked on a variant H.264 codec, and I found out about MPEG politics. It's not about standards, technical quality or user access, it's about MONEY. Specifically, patent portfolios and MPEG-LA.

    The price of admission is sending people to the four times a year MPEG meetings. The chips are the patentable intellectually property. The game is to get your IP into the standard by any means possible. When you are in the standard then you get profit participation in the MPEG-LA revenue stream.

    When I was involved, the Japanese had a notorious reputation for sending lots of people and stacking the meetings. They would use procedural methods to extend the meetings into late night and then after others left they would use their numbers to force through their proposals.

    Of course other players had other ways of stacking the deck. Remember that big corporations can afford to employ people full time to chair committees and that gives the extra clout (MicroSoft, apple, Sun, Philips,...).

    This all means that smaller independent groups, like the one I worked for, had a very difficult time making any headway. No matter how good the technology, political considerations had a lot more impact.

    The trick is that while MPEG is an open international body that supports "open standards", MPEG-LA is a foul black pit full of zombies, orcs and lawyers. In fact, the orcs and zombies are at the bottom of the heap, because the lawyer are the bad asses who run the show.

    How are licenses fees set? Nobody knows. How are revenues divided? Nobody knows. How much is spent on MPEG-LA costs? Nobody knows. How do they decided to engage in legal action and who do target? Nobody knows.

    It is a completely independent body with no oversight by any of the international standards bodies, or any government for that matter. It is only constrained by the software copyright rules in an individual jurisdiction.

    It is a closed black box that can charge as much as it wants, and because it is an "international standard", it is almost impossible to compete with it based on cost or quality, and and you can't go after it using the legal system. (This one reason is why Ogg Theodora is not looked at as a meaningful option by the big players; it is not a standard, so it gives big companies headaches. Who is responsible if there is any trouble? What happens if a key person is hit by a bus? Having access to the source does not fully address all these legal issues.)

    The reason that this such a bit deal is that large amounts of money are involved. I Googled around and I couldn't get a clue about total amounts, which is suspicious in itself. Remember, from the corporate viewpoint this is "free money", because the initial investment is small; a lab with some computers, some PHDs, a travel buget and some lawyers and the cost of their shark tanks. Very high rate of return over a long period of time.

    And a shout out to all you libertarian morons out there: THIS IS A TAX!!! It is a tax collected by corrupt self serving insiders who have subverted the legal system. It restrains trade and stifles innovation. It is not subject to competition. Those who are taxed have no say in the matter. It is arbitrary, and you cannot escape it by taking your business elsewhere. It is all the things you claim to hate about government. How come you this behavior is good when done by business for greed and bad when done by governments, which are more accountable to the people?

  • Seriously... Vorbis has not even taken over MP3, despite it being far superior.
    And you expect Theora to beat H.246??

    The fact is, that apart from us few experts, nobody cares what format it is, as long as it works, and has the best quality for its size.
    Look at what movies are used on BitTorrent nowadays. It’s mostly H.264, since the quality is simply superior. And XviD, since that’s what most pre-bluray standalone players can play.

    Even though I’m a supporter of open formats, I support H.246 right now. Because there are two groups of sources I have:
    1. Commercial video streams (YouTube, Daily Show, South Park, etc), who can handle the legal rights, and usually have a license anyway to distribute physical media etc.
    2. P2P-shared movies, that don’t care for laws anyway.
    (Bonus question: Guess how I would release my work? ^^)

    But: Offer me something that has all features of H.246, plus only one single tiny superior property, and I’ll be the strongest supporter of that format, that you will be able to find.
    Until then, it’s no war. Because one side has no teeth at all. (Sadly.)

  • Executive summary (Score:3, Informative)

    by mjrauhal (144713) on Saturday February 06, 2010 @07:22AM (#31044666) Homepage

    1) The main point really is that you can now relatively easily deploy Web video in Theora without sacrificing much potential user base. (Cortado can fill in some gaps in native browser support already, but Java applet support is dwindling.)
    1a) It might not yet be default(?), but MS is actively pushing Silverlight for Windows users, so the installed base is already fairly large and growing.
    1b) Apple I hear has some at least semi-official Moonlight-based support, but this I know less of. Comments?
    1c) Though not the best in quality per bit, you can make the quality of any codec better with more bits. Bits are only going to get cheaper. H.264 can potentially get much more expensive.

    2) No, H.264 won't die a gruesome death now.
    2a) Yes yes, we all know it's better technically, it doesn't matter, it still can't be a baseline Web codec.
    2b) Yes, some players, especially those with vested interest in the MPEG-LA racket and excluding smaller competitors, will almost certainly use H.264 on the web for a long time to come.
    2c) Isn't it nice though that a widely deployable option exists that probably has already played a hand in how much money the MPEG-LA can squeeze from you if you _do_ decide to go with H.264 anyway?

    3) Using H.264 for everything won't be as unified as you think.
    3a) Much of the material on the web incidentally doesn't use the very advanced features of H.264, because many decoders are limited in what profile or subset of H.264 they support (thus also reducing the quality advantage to Theora, but I make no claim of its elimination)
    3b) Some material (like pirated stuff that doesn't care for copyrights or patents alike) will use all the bells and whistles, but then you may well still be stuck with having to transcode for different devices even if everything does "H.264".
    3c) Such conversions can be relatively well automated when needed while keeping the original not to incur generation loss; I don't really see some need for transcoding persisting as a huge deal, except of course to the extent that anything you do with a patented format might be illegal depending on jurisdiction and circumstance.

    4) Yep, no "hardware" (DSP) decoders for Theora abound.
    4a) Mobile devices have enough oomph to decode it anyway in relevant resolutions (Theora is lighter than H.264, too)
    4b) Yes, battery life will probably suffer somewhat, doesn't make it useless.
    4c) Some DSP work has already been done on Theora decoding as already previously commented, though even when ready, deploying it would probably require user intervention and sufficient access unless shipped by the OS itself. ("Install this to improve your battery life with this site.")

    Hope this summary will clarify things somewhat.

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