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Wikipedia's Assault On Patent-Encumbered Codecs 428

Posted by timothy
from the because-they-hate-the-march-of-progress dept.
An anonymous reader writes "The Open Video Alliance is launching a campaign today called Let's Get Video on Wikipedia, asking people to create and post videos to Wikipedia articles. (Good, encyclopedia-style videos only!) Because all video must be in patent-free codecs (theora for now), this will make Wikipedia by far the most likely site for an average internet user to have a truly free and open video experience. The campaign seeks to 'strike a blow for freedom' against a wave of h.264 adoption in otherwise open HTML5 video implementations."
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Wikipedia's Assault On Patent-Encumbered Codecs

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  • HTML5 Video (Score:4, Insightful)

    by sopssa (1498795) * <sopssa@email.com> on Wednesday March 17, 2010 @04:44PM (#31514922) Journal

    It's all nice and all, but if open video technology really wants to win, they have to be technically better. There is no other way.

    However it's nice to see Open Video Alliance trying to partner with Wikipedia. In addition to being technically better, that's another aspect you need to take care of. You need to make sure websites, TV, phone, computer and so on manufacturers support your technology. You have to work with them to get it supported - not just put it out there and hope it catches up because its "open", because that's not going to happen. Personally I would also hate to see technically inferior solution being used, as it would eat huge amount of bandwidth. Theora just isn't on the same table with H.264 for Internet video. Theora is based on VP5 from On2 and now that Google acquired them, they're going at VP8.

    As far as having a single standard for HTML5 video goes, Theora lost. H.264 is and has been already everywhere and on every device. I also suspect majority of sites will use H.264, as that's what is being used with Flash already.

    However, what I see happening (and hope) is HTML5 Video tag being released without requiring support for a single codec, just like img tag is. Then browsers can either implement their own support, use third party tool like gstreamer (like Opera does) or just depend on OS (what I suspect IE and Safari will do). Firefox is still having their ideological problems, but I'm pretty sure they will start using gstreamer too.

    What I'm more worried about is that I cannot watch Wikipedia videos with any other device than my PC. Want to see a video clip of a place you're traveling on your phone? Not possible. Want to see videos from Wikipedia with your PS3/360? Not possible. It will create some serious problems, and I don't think Wikipedia is big enough to push the change alone.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 17, 2010 @04:47PM (#31514956)

    Let the OS handle it, and let the browser interact via plug-ins.

    It's really not that complicated.

  • Killer App? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by wjousts (1529427) on Wednesday March 17, 2010 @04:50PM (#31515008)

    I'm not sure I see Wikipedia as being the "killer app" for video standards. I'm not sure how many articles would be really enhanced by the addition of video, baring in mind that video would need to be licenced under CC or similar, so clips of TV shows / films would probably be out.

    To take a random example (today's featured article) . I'm not sure what video you could usefully add to that article? Especially since somebody who died in 1938 probably isn't featured in many video clips. [wikipedia.org]

  • And... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Lunix Nutcase (1092239) on Wednesday March 17, 2010 @04:50PM (#31515010)

    And Google, Microsoft and Apple give out a collective *yawn*. Youtube has more traffic than Wikipedia so if Google is pushing H.264 through there it will have far more impact than Wikipedia. Not to mention that Facebook, who also has more traffic than wikipedia and also youtube, also uses H.264 for its video.

  • by Protonk (599901) on Wednesday March 17, 2010 @04:50PM (#31515016) Homepage
    WP should just adopt html5 and give up on the FOSS posturing for once. We already relented on the issue of fair use media--limited use for copyrighted material. Patent protected material seems like a better place to compromise more widely because patents don't live forever. After ~14-21 years, the content path is free. If WP does plan to be around "forever", that isn't too long a time to wait.
  • Um, no (Score:3, Insightful)

    by eweu (213081) on Wednesday March 17, 2010 @04:52PM (#31515046)

    this will make Wikipedia by far the most likely site for an average internet user to have a truly free and open video experience

    Yes. An experience of videos that won't play in the average internet user's browser. It's easier to click the "close window" button than it is to care about broken video on a broken web site.

  • Re:HTML5 Video (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 17, 2010 @04:53PM (#31515058)

    Open video bitstream formats, like Theora, are simply not capable of being better than H.264 (yet). The best bet in that regard is Dirac by the BBC, but even that does not fare too well against H.264 as encoded by x264.

    However, open video formats simply do not need to be better than the proprietary formats, they simply need to be "good-enough" and be ubiquitous on the web, and pretty soon all browsers (except IE, probably) will support them out of the box. Wikipedia going with theora is a good move in that direction.

  • Re:HTML5 Video (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Xtifr (1323) on Wednesday March 17, 2010 @04:58PM (#31515144) Homepage

    It's all nice and all, but if open video technology really wants to win, they have to be technically better. There is no other way.

    Why? Closed formats don't seem to operate under that constraint. In fact, technical qualities seem to be a non-issue as far as success goes in general. The backing of big players seems to be what counts, and that's exactly what we have here. Whether Wikipedia + Firefox + RedHat + other open players is big enough remains to be seen (and I admit I have my doubts), but if "technically better" becomes an issue, I think it'll be the first time ever.

    What I'm more worried about is that I cannot watch Wikipedia videos with any other device than my PC

    Ah, now your real concern appears, I suspect. If Theora starts to get momentum, it'll appear on phones and similar devices quickly enough. My phone already supports Ogg Vorbis. (It may even support Theora; I haven't tried.) If yours doesn't, then perhaps you went with the wrong vendor. I didn't look for Vorbis support for my phone, but I did look for openness; if that wasn't a factor in your choice of phone, then my sympathy for you is nil. Especially if you want to connect with Wikipedia, whose commitment to openness is legendary.

    If you want Wikipedia to go with your proprietary, encumbered format(s), your best be is to lobby the patent holders to donate the patents to the public domain. Good luck with that. :)

  • Oh the irony.. (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 17, 2010 @05:00PM (#31515188)

    So why does an organization like openvideoalliance.org use flash for their videos?

  • Good luck. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by OrangeCatholic (1495411) on Wednesday March 17, 2010 @05:01PM (#31515202)

    They're so uptight about what pictures they'll accept (copyright, fair use), what makes anyone think that Wikipedia is going to become a giant video repository?

  • Re:HTML5 Video (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Lunix Nutcase (1092239) on Wednesday March 17, 2010 @05:03PM (#31515256)

    But why should the average user be quite in some stupid ideological fight when they are never going to be paying for the H.264 royalties that Microsoft, Apple and Google will be shelling out to include H.264 support in their browser?

  • Re:HTML5 Video (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DragonWriter (970822) on Wednesday March 17, 2010 @05:07PM (#31515312)

    It's all nice and all, but if open video technology really wants to win, they have to be technically better. There is no other way.

    For any definition of "technically better" where this is not a vacuous tautology (that is, any definition other than "technically better means whatever ends up winning"), this isn't true: solutions that aren't "technically better" by almost any definition you choose will win all the time, because the business model behind selling them allows them to be sold cheaper (even if they aren't any cheaper to produce), because they are imposed by market-dominant players, or for all kinds of other reasons beside technical superiority.

    Compatibilty of patent-unencumbered formats with a venue like Wikipedia would be exactly that kind of non-technical factor. (As would, on the other side, the competitive advantage that those who co-own the patents see in the dominance of patent-encumbered formats that they are part of the controlling syndicate for.)

  • Re:HTML5 Video (Score:4, Insightful)

    by AliasMarlowe (1042386) on Wednesday March 17, 2010 @05:08PM (#31515334) Journal

    It's all nice and all, but if open video technology really wants to win, they have to be technically better. There is no other way.

    Try telling that to Microsoft!
    Recall that Windows did not become the de facto standard OS by being better - it was definitely not better than the alternatives in the period in which it became dominant. So there is another way: gain sufficient market share through fair means or foul, and you can win. Whether wikipedia would count as critical mass or not is an open question, but if they were sufficiently bloodyminded, then whichever codec they chose to standardize on would ipso facto become a necessary codec, even if it were not used widely elsewhere.

  • by Abcd1234 (188840) on Wednesday March 17, 2010 @05:14PM (#31515448) Homepage

    Why do you need a package manager when browsers have been facilitating the easy installation of plugins, such as Flash, for years now?

    Because the point is the browser shouldn't need *any* codec-specific plugins at all. The browser should simply use the existing mechanisms in the operating system or desktop environment for performing video decoding. On Windows that means DirectShow, and on Linux that means gstreamer. Codec installation is then a task for the operating system or package manager. The result is a better experience for the user, and a simpler implementation for the developers, as they need only to interface to a generic video backend, rather than incorporating a completely codec stack into the browser.

    'course, this kind of reasonable design decision would get in the way of pointless political posturing, and who really wants that?

  • Re:HTML5 Video (Score:5, Insightful)

    by wealthychef (584778) on Wednesday March 17, 2010 @05:17PM (#31515480)
    The cost is still paid by the average user, it's just tacked onto the cost of the O/S or whatever you buy from Apple, MS, etc. As for "why", various consumers value different things. Some value cheap, some value fast, some value open source, some value high quality, etc. Ideally, customers who want choice can get it with a plugin, and the rest will get it easily without a plugin. But there will always be this creative edge. Most people will just say with safe, reasonably fast and easy.
  • by Lunix Nutcase (1092239) on Wednesday March 17, 2010 @05:18PM (#31515498)

    They just won't know it.

    Know what? People pay 0 dollars for a browser. Exactly what costs are they bearing due to Apple or Google or Microsoft including H.264 support in the browser?

    Oh, and a more idealistic person might even say that they'll not only be paying money

    Paying money where? Browsers have all been free for quite some time now.

    but paying in a more metaphorical sense with lock-in, etc.

    What lock-in? What exactly am I "locked-in" to when I watch H.264 HTML 5 movies on youtube? And how would those movie being encoded in theora make me less "locked-in"?

  • Re:HTML5 Video (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 17, 2010 @05:19PM (#31515512)

    If they don't offer hardware acceleration in a mobile device, your begging for a huge battery drain. The point isn't only that they can play them, but that they are well supported by the device and that the impact isn't overly detrimental.

  • by natehoy (1608657) on Wednesday March 17, 2010 @05:21PM (#31515536) Journal

    You pirate a clip of "Beavis and Butt-head" snickering and muttering "heh heh, breaking the law" to listen to while you download it.

    Or you support sites that use open standards.

    Or you buy a license for each of the proprietary standards that "plugins-ugly" provides. There's a reason it's called "ugly", and it's not just a lack of rugged good looks.

  • Re:And... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by justinjstark (1645867) on Wednesday March 17, 2010 @05:26PM (#31515598)
    HTML5 video codec support is not a dichotomous decision. There can be multiple supported video codecs for the video tag just like there are multiple supported image formats for the img tag. Larger sites like Wikipedia supporting only theora will encourage other companies to add support for theora in their browsers...not replace H.264.
  • Re:HTML5 Video (Score:4, Insightful)

    by moderatorrater (1095745) on Wednesday March 17, 2010 @05:36PM (#31515710)

    It's all nice and all, but if open video technology really wants to win, they have to be technically better. There is no other way.

    Why? Closed formats don't seem to operate under that constraint.

    Because closed formats have a company or companies willing to push it for reasons other than technical superiority. Open source relies on a lot of people getting excited about something and pushing it in a more organic way, and for that to happen in a big way then the thing they're pushing has to be technically superior. Linux has gained momentum in its areas by being superior for developers and sysadmins who know what they're doing. Firefox gained momentum the same way. I can't think of an open source product that gained mainstream popularity without being technically superior.

    I didn't look for Vorbis support for my phone, but I did look for openness; if that wasn't a factor in your choice of phone, then my sympathy for you is nil

    So, only people who spend their valuable time and money getting an open phone instead of the iPhone are worthy of consideration in this debate? Like it or not, the iPhone's dominance isn't because of any media blitz or cult of Apple, it's because it came out in a market where it was by far the best choice and is still superior to any other smartphone I've seen.

    So, if you want to prioritize openness in your purchasing, that's fine. But this is about Wikipedia trying to influence the culture as a whole and the emerging standard, and to suggest that this process ignore the vast majority of people is at best naive and at worst extremely damaging to your own position.

  • Wikipedia? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TopSpin (753) * on Wednesday March 17, 2010 @05:38PM (#31515740) Journal

    So far the comments are focused on teh 3v1Lz H.264 vs. 'open' codecs, why one is better than the other, etc. What about Wikipedia?

    Perhaps Wikipedia doesn't actually need to be riddled with video. Maybe Wikipedia is actually better off without it. Have you ever had to suffer through some lengthy, 99% irrelevant video to get a specific piece of information? How many times have you just not bothered to watch that video because it's frustrating, you can't afford the time, don't have just the right version of some plug-in, etc? Ever tried to copy and paste from a video?

    How much of the useful content of Wikipedia is going to end up trapped inside videos when easily indexed and searched, entirely unencumbered US Grade-A ASCII^h^h^h^h^hUTF-8 would have been sufficient? How much more bandwidth is Wikipedia going to have to fund to serve up cell phone footage of Silambarasan Rajendar [wikipedia.org] waving at people?

  • by shutdown -p now (807394) on Wednesday March 17, 2010 @07:23PM (#31516934) Journal

    h.264 = Porn and "funny", time wasting, videos

    Theora = Actually useful stuff

    That's a long way to spell "H.264 wins".

  • Re:HTML5 Video (Score:3, Insightful)

    by icebraining (1313345) on Wednesday March 17, 2010 @07:31PM (#31517004) Homepage

    How is Mozilla forcing you? No one forces you to use default Firefox. If it's available as a patch, compile Firefox yourself and there you have it. Even if it wasn't, you could make it yourself or pay someone to do it.

    But no, you want to force Mozilla to give you what you want. Well, too bad. One of Mozilla's goals is to defend the right to browse with a complete free stack.

  • JPEG (Score:3, Insightful)

    by wiredlogic (135348) on Wednesday March 17, 2010 @07:38PM (#31517054)

    JPEG images are patent encumbered too. There's just a gentleman's agreement among group members not to pursue royalties for "baseline" implementations of the standard. I don't see anyone scrambling to remove them from Wikipedia.

  • Re:Killer App? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Xyrus (755017) on Wednesday March 17, 2010 @08:06PM (#31517320) Journal

    Agreed. Porn is. So putting porn videos on wikipedia would be the killer app.

    Natalie Portman, naked, petrified, hot grits, now featured on the Elemental Chart on wikipedia. Nerd nirvana. Or if your feeling less pure, Mila Jovavich naked and shellacked, covered in hot corn nuts doing a spread on the Actinide series. Though really, she's been naked in so much I don't even think that's porn anymore.

    ~X~

  • Re:HTML5 Video (Score:3, Insightful)

    by LWATCDR (28044) on Wednesday March 17, 2010 @08:40PM (#31517558) Homepage Journal

    Politics aside By going with the OS codec subsystem offers other benefits.
    Suppose the Vorbis folks produce an updated version you can just download the codec and install it and not have to wait for Mozilla to update Firefox. Same for security updates.
    Or let's say some website decides to use Dirac? Add the Codec and your good to go.
    Using a codec system is more flexible and can be more secure.
    At this point the decision is purely political statement at the cost of flexibility and usability which I feel is ALWAYS a bad way to make design choices.

  • by Kohath (38547) on Wednesday March 17, 2010 @10:02PM (#31518162)

    I would assume that the licensing fees for MPEG are a part of the Windows and Mac OS X price tag.

    Is there someone who wouldn't assume that? What would it be like if someone found out the answer and posted it?

    Meanwhile, this uncertain assumption that some unknown cost paid by some unknown entity and then included as an unknown component cost in some unknown products is hardly a call to arms .

  • Re:HTML5 Video (Score:3, Insightful)

    by dangitman (862676) on Wednesday March 17, 2010 @11:14PM (#31518642)

    Nobody would argue that MP3 is a closed format, for example.

    I would. MP3 is a proprietary format.

  • Re:HTML5 Video (Score:4, Insightful)

    by muyshiny (944250) on Thursday March 18, 2010 @01:49AM (#31519470)

    that's bold of you user #31 million some.

    but seriously, it's important and i don't know if you're trolling or what, perhaps i'm that idealistic? please help me understand why having formats and software free of legal entanglement and reducing humanity's dependency on a few, often secretive, organisations is not worth the minimal effort that this volunteer-run collective is taking to contribute to a shared ideology?

    we joke and belittle 'slashdot' culture but a lot of this here shit is real sir and i think we do ourselves a disservice. and if you're sincere then damn, go read wikileaks for a bit and see if you can't get a sense of perspective. these are the tools with which we increasingly control our personal identities and the global economy of both ideas and goods. anyone who can understand why it's important to keep that as neutral and transparent as possible really ought to step up wherever they can because... it really is.

  • Re:HTML5 Video (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Draek (916851) on Thursday March 18, 2010 @12:47PM (#31524364)

    Linux has gained momentum in its areas by being superior for developers and sysadmins who know what they're doing. Firefox gained momentum the same way. I can't think of an open source product that gained mainstream popularity without being technically superior.

    It depends on how you define "popularity" and "superior", but FreeBSD vs Linux (the BSD lawsuit was a factor, but that became moot before Linux hit even 1.0), KHTML vs Gecko, OpenOffice vs LaTeX (or Abiword/Gnumeric). Some would also argue for Bash vs $FAVORITE_SHELL_HERE as well but I haven't tried any of them to judge personally.

    So, only people who spend their valuable time and money getting an open phone instead of the iPhone are worthy of consideration in this debate? Like it or not, the iPhone's dominance isn't because of any media blitz or cult of Apple, it's because it came out in a market where it was by far the best choice and is still superior to any other smartphone I've seen.

    Really? if it can't support Wikipedia, then I guess it wasn't the best choice after all. All devices have problems, it just so happens that you chose one that had "closedness" and "dominated by a NIH-riddled corporation" as theirs.

    So, if you want to prioritize openness in your purchasing, that's fine. But this is about Wikipedia trying to influence the culture as a whole and the emerging standard, and to suggest that this process ignore the vast majority of people is at best naive and at worst extremely damaging to your own position.

    What the *fuck* are youn talking about? if this is "trying to influence the culture as a whole", then what is Apple's refusal to support Theora in Safari, outright rape of the pillars of our society? don't be so melodramatic, this is simply the logical consequence of Wikipedia's policies regarding free access to its information. Requiring payment of royalties to a third-party corporation for each uploaded video (as h.264 will become once the "free" period expires) would be very much a 180 degree turn from that. Audio in Wikipedia is already in Ogg Vorbis instead of the more popular-among-the-masses MP3 or the more popular-among-the-nerds AAC, requiring Theora was only expected.

    In fact, you may notice that this project isn't about making Wikipedia require Theora, they already do, all this projects aims at is to upload *more* videos, to make Wikipedia's video content more pervasive and, as such, regular people would be more likely to complain when their phone manufacturer refuses to support it and they're suddenly left with a text-only website.

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