HTML5's Dark Horse Video Codec, ON2 VP8 From Google

While Google didn't make the VP8 video codec, they did purchase it recently and now, they're announcing [allegedly] that it will be Open Source. What's this mean for HTML 5? It might finally have found a winner of the codec race and a savior, in Google. Go figure.

Now I'm sure you might be asking why Google would do such a thing, but let's back up a bit and get all the facts straight. Google acquired On2 Technologies earlier this year (February) for a meager (for Google) $133 million (a very tiny fraction of a true googolplex).

Now Google is keeping mum on the topic until their Google I/O dev conference, May 19-20 at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. While it promises to be two-days full of Googleness it's also got a potentially huge impact on the HTML community.

Sources (not my sources, but NewTeeVee's) say that Google is going  to announce that they are making the VP8 codec, part of the On2 Technologies deal, Open Source. It's also being said that at that point both Google Chrome and Firefox will add support for the codec and their HTML 5 video support.

This could be the dark horse we've been waiting for. With the perpetual debate over what exactly the standard codec should be for HTML 5 it looked like it was going the way of a double standard, which is no standard at all of course. The leading entrants in the race are Ogg Theora and H.264. Both have some drawbacks though one has more, in my opinion, than the other.

H.264 is not Open Source. It is currently supplied as royalty free, but while MPEG LA has extended the royalty-free duration well into the future, it could, at any time, revoke or choose not to extend it. Very Machiavellian as once the world is dependent on it in the HTML 5 standard you could drop the royalty-free clause and slam everyone with licensing fees. Dastardly to say the least. Now I'm not saying that's what MPEG LA is planning, it's just a future possibility.

Ogg Theora on the other hand is Open Source. But the problem lies in the lack of maturity in the codec. There's not enough easy-to-use tools for it and the quality at times is not as good as some would hope. Now I recently found a really cool Firefox plugin called Firefogg which does a fantastic job of converting video to Ogg Theora. I must say that the quality is far superior to some other encoders I've used and it's guaranteed to be Firefox compatible so no worrying about having the proper settings.

The industry has already drawn lines in the virtual sand and started taking sides. Chrome, Firefox, Opera, Konqueror and Epiphany all support Ogg Theora. Meanwhile, Only Chrome and Safari currently support H.264 and Internet Explorer 9 has been announced as supporting it. Google developed a plugin for IE that basically turns it into Chrome and therefore allows you to watch Theora HTML video now, quite the sly feat on their part.

In regards to major sites, YouTube (owned by Google oddly), Microsoft (Silverlight and IE) and Apple (long-time supporters of H.264) are all supporting H.264. Mozilla refuses to support it because of the licensing stuff. Many others are leaving Theora out in the cold and only supporting H.264 including Brightcove,, MeFeedia, and mDialog.

Now Google brings VP8 into the mix if they make it completely Open Source and gives the world a potential answer to the video codec debate. How?


I bet they are hard at work behind the scenes already transcoding all of the video for YouTube with VP8. When the world's second largest search engine talks, people listen. What better way to move the industry than to take the largest video serving site in the world and turn it into the driving force? Considering the massive amount of  videos YouTube shows per month I can only imagine what a license fee for the underlying technology might be.

VP8 is an attractive alternative. It's got the power and a load of options that would rival a fully pimped out ride. The Macchiavellian (it's the word of the day) minds at Google could certainly be ready to drive the industry in the pimped out codec.

Plus they would have the satisfaction of Microsoft, Apple and Adobe all having to ride in the back and fight over who gets the b.... er, middle seat. That sounds like reason enough to me!

Don't Miss Out - Join Our VIP Video Marketing Community!
Get daily online video tips and trends via email!

About the Author -
Christophor Rick is a freelance writer specializing in technology, new media, video games, IPTV, online video advertising and consumer electronics. His past work has included press releases, copy-writing, travel writing and journalism. He also writes novel-length and short fiction as part of Three-Faced Media . View All Posts By -

What do you think? ▼
  • drclue

    I've been waiting for this moment since last year, and predicting it out loud in comment boxes everywhere!

    There are a lot of Internet developers like myself who really want to move onto HTM5 and the truly
    game changing reality it brings to not just the Internet , but operating systems and computing in

    I've been coding for ~30 years with the last 16 dedicated to the Internet and the moment I heard that the CODEC is coming out next month , I started getting my server code ready for WebSockets
    and everything else that comes with HTML5, and I'm sure that with the resolution of the CODEC
    issue in sight, the HTML5 fever will explode.

    Adobe might want to call IE6 and let them know that Flash is moving in so that they can make space at the watching window and lay in an extra inventory of depends undergarments :)

  • Ronnie Bincer

    Never a dull moment for the pixel-aware crowd!
    Cant wait to "watch" what happens... Ruff!

  • Jimi Bostock

    Ummm, I think you might have ripped the whole thing open with this.

    The online video codec wars are like 'back to the future' for all of us in the web development / online video industry. I will admit to being completely over the battle. I would like a nice quite life where we can all go developing great interactive and rich experiences safe in the knowledge that we are not putting our client onto future-risk platforms.

    Having said that, I am resigned to the fact that the battle will rage for some time. AFter twenty odd years in new media, I have a pretty high threshold for standard wars. But I would love to have at least a couple of decades in my working life where most standards for rich media are settled and evolving organically and gradually.

    Hopefully those in the battle read your article.

    Jimi Bostock
    PUSH Agency
    Brisbane | Canberra | Sydney | Australia