Google Chrome deprecates H.264: the right move, but little change for HTML5 video

Google has decided to deprecate H.264 in Chrome. This is nothing but good for the future of web video. With support in three major browsers (Firefox 4, Chrome, and Opera) it means that WebM/VP8, instead of H.264, will become the defacto codec for HTML5 video.

I’ve talked to several people who think that this move has killed HTML5 video. I’m not sure I follow the logic — little has changed, except what will become the dominant codec.

You can say it’s made Flash the least common denominator, which ignores the fact that Flash already IS the least common denominator for web video.

Regarding codec fragmentation, little is changed there too: Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 9 and Apple’s various Webkit products still do not have WebM/VP8 support. Content providers wanting to support HTML5 still need to encode to both H.264 and WebM.

With the codec fragmentation problem as yet unsolved, do content providers have any reason to use HTML5 video when Flash still is the least common denominator? Well, Flash is no longer included with Windows 7 or Mac OS X (and was never included with any reputable Linux distribution). Are content providers still willing to force users to download plugins, when they can just use the dominant HTML5 video codec?

I don’t have the answers to these questions, nor does anyone else. Nobody said that the problem of open video would be solved easily or overnight. But focusing on WebM is, in my opinion, a step in the right direction.

In the meanwhile, WebM is winning, so why don’t you start encoding your videos to WebM now? On SamatsWiki I’ve a sparse page on encoding to WebM (which will work with stock Debian/Ubuntu tools), as well as one on encoding to Ogg Theora. If you’re on Linux, the easiest way to convert videos is OggConvert, an easy-to-use GNOME-based GUI. Publishing them on the Web is just as easy. Check out the HTML5 video chapter in Mark Pilgrim’s Dive Into HTML5, or Jakub Steiner’s How to get your clips on the web.

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