Google throws new format into HTML5 video cage match

Until today, the HTML5 video codec debate was at a stalemate. Apple, Google, and Microsoft were publicly backing H.264 exclusively, while Mozilla and Opera were instead behind the purportedly royalty-free Ogg Theora codec. Google has now attempted to untangle things with its new WebM format, which combines the VP8 video codec it acquired from On2, the Vorbis audio codec, and the Matroska container format, all in a neat open-source, royalty-free package.

Here's what Google has to say about the VP8 video codec in particular:

The team that created VP8 have been pioneers in video codec development for over a decade. VP8 delivers high quality video while efficiently adapting to the varying processing and bandwidth conditions found on today's broad range of web-connected devices. VP8's efficient bandwidth usage will mean lower serving costs for content publishers and high quality video for end-users. The codec's relative simplicity makes it easy to integrate into existing environments and requires less manual tuning to produce high quality results. These existing attributes and the rapid innovation we expect through the open-development process make VP8 well suited for the unique requirements of video on the web.

A healthy number of software and hardware makers are already backing WebM. The list includes Adobe, Microsoft, Mozilla, Opera, and Skype on the software front as well as ARM, Broadcom, Nvidia, Qualcomm, and Texas Instruments on the hardware side. According to Engadget, AMD and Imagination Technologies are also part of the fold. Nightly builds of both the Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox web browsers are slated to get support, and Google has already added WebM to its YouTube HTML5 experiment. As for Microsoft, the company posted this statement:

In its HTML5 support, IE9 will support playback of H.264 video as well as VP8 video when the user has installed a VP8 codec on Windows.

Apple, which has been very vocal about the merits of H.264 and HTML5 versus Flash, has yet to announce participation. Support for VP8 on the iPhone, iPad, and in Apple's browser Safari could make this launch a home run for Google, but the search giant has had a strained relationship with Apple recently. The two companies are competing in more areas than ever, which has led to recent confrontation over handsets and Steve Jobs calling Google's "don't be evil" motto "a load of crap."

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