Google Tries to Clarify Why It's Dropping Support for H.264

Very few developments in the tech world this week got as much attention as Google’s announcement that it would slowly drop support for the H.264 video codec from its Chrome browser. Given how ubiquitous H.264 is on the Web today – though it is also encumbered by patent and licensing issues – quite a few pundits shook their heads at this development. Today, Google published a more detailed explanation for this decision.

In this, Google product manager Mike Jazayeri explains that these changes will only affect the HTML tag, where the standards organizations involved have reached “an impasse.” Mozilla, for example, won’t support H.264 for the tag anytime soon, while the current versions of Apple’s and Microsoft’s browsers offer support for this codec. Given that different browser now support different codecs, Google argues that “core web technologies need to be open and community developed to enable the same great innovation that has brought the web to where it is today. These facts led us to join the efforts of the web community and invest in an open alternative, WebM.”

Google also notes that it has to pay royalties for using this codec and that there is no guarantee that licensing fees for H.264 won’t go up in the future.

We Don’t Want to Control WebM

When Google first made its announcement earlier this week, a lot of pundits speculated that Google wants to control web video by pushing its own codec to the front of the pack. In his post today, Jazayeri addresses this question quite diplomatically and argues that Google expects “majority of organizations and individuals contributing to WebM won’t be affiliated with Google or any single entity.” Be that as it may, I don’t think that this answer will satisfy a lot of the company’s critics.

“Few sites use it today.”

Another point of criticism we heard a lot this week was that publishers will not be forced to support multiple copies of their content and encode their video is multiple formats – something that can be difficult for small publishers to do.