Google Announces WebM ➝

Engadget’s Nilay Patel reports on Google’s newly announced WebM web video format. The announcement was made at Google I/O, is built on the VP8 codec, and is the result of Google’s acquisition of On2.

Nilay Patel:

The WebM container is based on Matroska, with VP8 video and Ogg Vorbis audio streams packed inside — Google says the format is efficient enough to support playback on lower-power devices like netbooks, tablets, and handhelds, while the encoding profiles are simple enough to limit complexity when you’re trying to create WebM files.

Mozilla, Opera, Adobe, AMD, ARM, Broadcom, Freescale, Nvidia, Qualcomm, and Texas Instruments are all on board. Firefox and Chromium nightly build already support WebM.

WebM starts out sounding fantastic, but unfortunately it might not be the perfect video format that we’ve all been waiting for. x264 developer, Jason Garrett-Glaser, points out some of the weaknesses of  WebM in a recent piece on his weblog. I especially like this bit:

But first, a comment on the spec itself.

AAAAAAAGGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

The spec consists largely of C code copy-pasted from the VP8 source code — up to and including TODOs, “optimizations”, and even C-specific hacks, such as workarounds for the undefined behavior of signed right shift on negative numbers. In many places it is simply outright opaque. Copy-pasted C code is not a spec. I may have complained about the H.264 spec being overly verbose, but at least it’s precise. The VP8 spec, by comparison, is imprecise, unclear, and overly short, leaving many portions of the format very vaguely explained. Some parts even explicitly refuse to fully explain a particular feature, pointing to highly-optimized, nigh-impossible-to-understand reference code for an explanation. There’s no way in hell anyone could write a decoder solely with this spec alone.

Jason goes on to talk about VP8 in more technical detail and comes to the conclusion that it is significantly weaker than H.264 compression-wise. He says that VP8 is more comparable with VC-1 or H.264 Baseline Profile than with H.264.

But technical issues aside, there might be bigger worries for would-be WebM supporters. John Paczkowski reports on All Things Digital that the MPEG-LA is looking at creating a patent pool license for VP8. If they decide to do so it would mean that companies who decide to use WebM may have to pay licensing fees in the future.

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