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January 11, 2011

Google Chrome to Drop Support for H.264

Chromium's blog informs that Google Chrome will drop support for H.264 in the coming months and will only support WebM (VP8) and Theora codecs.
We expect even more rapid innovation in the web media platform in the coming year and are focusing our investments in those technologies that are developed and licensed based on open web principles. To that end, we are changing Chrome's HTML5 <video> support to make it consistent with the codecs already supported by the open Chromium project. Specifically, we are supporting the WebM (VP8) and Theora video codecs, and will consider adding support for other high-quality open codecs in the future. Though H.264 plays an important role in video, as our goal is to enable open innovation, support for the codec will be removed and our resources directed towards completely open codec technologies.

Google decided to pick sides, much like Mozilla and Opera, in an effort to encourage developers to use WebM. Right now, the only important website that uses WebM is YouTube, Google's video sharing service. Internet Explorer, Safari and iOS devices are unlikely to support WebM, while hardware acceleration and Flash support are expected later this year.

John Gruber thinks that "this is just going to push publishers toward forcing Chrome users to use Flash for video playback — and that the video that gets sent to Flash Player will be encoded as H.264". He also finds it ironic that Google Chrome bundles Adobe's proprietary Flash plugin, which is a great software for playing H.264 videos.

VP8 has a long way to go before becoming the codec of choice for Web videos and Google decided to make it more popular by dropping support for the competing codec from its browser. Last year, Andy Rubin said that sometimes being open "means not being militant about the things consumer are actually enjoying," but that's not the case here.


  1. So much for easy and full support for the entire web. I guess it's back to Firefox.

  2. @Anonymous Firefox doesn't support H.264 either.... it only supports WebM and Theora, just like Chrome will..

  3. Firefox doesn't support H.264, either. It can't, and never will by default, because H.264 is a licensed codec. This is a smart move by Google, as it would put pressure on Apple and Microsoft to support more than just H.264 in their browsers. WebM and Theora are better and open codecs, and we should all be supporting them. Fuck H.264 and MPEG-LA licensing BS.

  4. I want my hardware acceleration back! :-(

  5. It could just support whatever OS supports. It seems there is no alternative to Safari left.

  6. really? they plan to drop support for Flash too then? It's sure as hell not open...

  7. Some stats

    Browsers with support in the current market:

    WebM/Ogg: 35%
    (Firefox: 22.81%; Chrome: 9.98%; Opera: 2.23%)

    H.264: 6%
    (Safari: 5.89; IE9: 0.46%)

    Even when IE9 is released and becomes equivalent to what IE8 is currently, including current trends, WebM/Ogg-supporting browsers will have a slight lead on those with H.264 support.

    So now is abolutely the time to be militant - it's a pivotal point in the development of what will become the world's media respoitory.

    Either we encode it all in a format MPEG-LA has licencing rules on and end up with the problems when we want to find new ways to use our media, not dissimilar to the problems we've had with the past three versions of IE; or we choose to adopt open standards with no legal restrictions and have an interoperable web in years to come.

    This is the kind of ballsy move we need to see more of if there's any chance of Apple and Microsoft being pulled over (albeit somewhat against their will) to a web that's in everyone's common interest, not one that exists to serve their respective corporate agendas.

  8. Last time I checked, Chromium was open source. Google dropped support for H.264? No big deal, somebody is gonna release a patch.

    I, however, favor VP8 myself.

  9. Can't you get the same capability with Chrome's plugin architecture? If so, then this isn't something to worry about and I'm glad they're supporting open innovation without taking away user choice.

  10. Actually Gruber thinks it's ironic that Google professes support of "open" codecs while pushing people to rely on "proprietary" Flash for video delivery.

    See how my explanation fits better than your's with the definition of ironic.

  11. Thank you for doing evil by adding to my (already strained) workload by having to support your off-the-beaten-track video formats!

  12. What about YouTube? Will that retain HTML5 support! I hope so!!!!

  13. Gruber's off the scent in the linked blog post.

    We really messed up the last iteration of the web by basing so much of it on proprietary crap like Flash. Letting the next iteration go up around a patent-protected video codec with royalty payments attached would be a far worse mistake.

    Sure, Flash uses that codec anyway, but Flash (like IE) is yesterday's news, an old dog who can still lift its head and snarl, but doesn't have any teeth left to bite. Apple's proprietary play for the web is *today's* threat, and we should take it very, very seriously -- H.264 is a small but important part of that.

  14. I can't google VP8 codec to compress my videos in VirtualDub ..(

  15. So, is google also dropping Flash and mp3 support? Those are not open, either.

    Google, get some balls! (like twitter!)
    At least Apple has the decency to say: 'we don't like Flash, we're not using it'. Just go ahead and say: 'we don't like Apple, we're fighting 'em'. Don't pretend you 'want to be open'. Either be fully open, or don't lie to us. Whatever happened to the 'don't be evil?' :(

  16. So if Adobe would include support for VP8 and Theora in Flash, we would suddenly have the situation where h.264 isn't needed anywhere at all!
    Where do we sign up for lobbying the Adobe folks?

    (By the way, you h264 supporters, have you got a paid license to encode and publish in that format?)

  17. hang on a sec!?

    WebM(VP8) is sitting on a huge patent liability -- this situation is far WORSE for WebM than H.264.

    That is why Apple supports H.264.

    Besides the fact that its a superior codec thats also used in BlueRay HD.

    The industry that has the most vested interest in High Quality HD video is the entertainment industry -- and thats why they support H.264

    In addition -- that fact that Microsoft and Apple supports H.264 is enough reason to ensure that it will be the dominant standard.

    All Google has done is create chaos.

  18. @Simon: Flash already supports WebM :)

  19. @suresh writes "WebM(VP8) is sitting on a huge patent liability -- this situation is far WORSE for WebM than H.264."

    The closest I can find is that the MPEG LA group (the ones who extort the patent licensing fees for H.264) are fishing around trying to see if they can find anyone with patents they can assert against VP8, too (looks more like a FUD attempt than anything else):

  20. Google pushing the internet improve.

    But let us choose what we want.

    We don't want a parent decide everything.

  21. Ironically, Adobe Flash; instead of being killed by HTML5 , the turf wars have highlighted its strength as the only reliable medium for video streaming that can support both H.264 and WebM. lol

  22. @Lem: "Ironically, Adobe Flash; instead of being killed by HTML5 , the turf wars have highlighted its strength as the only reliable medium for video streaming that can support both H.264 and WebM."

    Lots of desktop-oriented web sites use Flash, like lots of desktop computers use Windows, but they're both stale old legacy technologies that are failing to make the jump into the mobile web.

    I don't think it's worth letting Apple and MS mess up HTML5 for the next 20 years just for the sake of finishing off Flash a year or two earlier. It's going to die off anyway.

  23. Please moderate your comments. It's very offensive to encounter foul language.

  24. suresh: Apple supports H.264 because it is one of the vendors of H.264. Apple and most of the electronic industry as you can see here:

    The owners of the codec are trying to force it to be standard, so they can reap the rewards. Entertainment industry have no choice but to pay if the players can only play H.264

  25. @suresh is right, with heavyweights behind H.264, and major software for video editing support it (and not WebM), that momentum will be virtually impossible to break.
    So this is just creating chaos, as I see little chance that this move will "force" anyone to start taking WebM seriously.
    Also right about Patent liability behind WebM - as detailed analysis of WebM open source code showed, it is violating bunch of things there, sadly.

  26. There are many other browsers who doesn't support the H.264 codes

  27. A point for Chromium... Hope that it won't be a shot in the foot

  28. Opera's Haavard responds to these claims, with a sound article. It's a must read.

  29. I’m betting Firefox and Chrome users (and presumably Chrome OS?) will basically now be forced to watch h.264 via Flash. Everyone else (Safari, IE9, iOS, Android) will get native h.264 support (CPU/GPU optimised) without the burden of Flash…

  30. WTF?????????? dats de only reason i switched over frm firfox!!!!!!!!!!

  31. "It could be that Google?s plan is to tip the hand of MPEG LA and force this issue into the courts as quickly as possible."

    I think this is a key move a very interesting game of chess. H264 hardware support is the biggest obstacle to WebM adoption.

    Idealogically, WebM has it licked but on a practical level, H264 is too convenient and mobile devices will not be able to upgrade their hardware to support hardware decoding of WebM.

    I would expect as a result of this battle, the unconditional opening and unrestricted licensing of H264 (for web & open source use) to come sometime in the next year. That would be the best possible outcome for everyone (including Google which is only fighting this fight for that reason I believe).

  32. Geet: good observation. It is true that if H.264 were free, there would be no technical reason to oppose it.

    I expect, though, that Apple and Microsoft will be too desperate to make it truly free -- H.264 is their hedge, to ensure that people are forced to keep giving them some money even if/when their Internet/mobile strategies fail.

    They'll probably open it up a bit more, so that individuals and companies too small to sue anyway can use it without worrying, but they'll make sure that they have some way to fleece big companies and keep a revenue stream open.


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