WebRTC Expert Feature

November 04, 2013

Google Gaffs with WebRTC

Google is an amazing company, one with loads of interesting ideas and concepts that they are quick to explore and develop and sometimes the results it achieves are pure genius (a free email service that comes complete with a robust search tool and gigabytes of free storage). The company also shows serious weakness at times, though, abandoning initiatives and leaving them to die on the vine, one prime example being Orkut, a great social network that was swept under the rug in favor of Google+ when Facebook became the rage. There are other areas, too, where Google has not exactly come through with the flying colors befitting its logo, for instance Google Phone (support was a mess), all of which have made me reluctant to take the plunge on a Chromebook.

I bring Google’s spotty track record up because at next week’s IETF meeting, the discussion about VP8 and H.264 is going to take a turn in favor of H.264. Being candid, I am not convinced that Google has much of anything against H.264, believing it originally bought On2 Technologies as protection against Microsoft’s Silverlight.

In the software world, diverging into all sorts of offshoots has been a key to innovation, proof of which can be found in the history of Unix and, more recently, the issues at the bedrock of the browser wars. On the Web, the codec choice is wide open, but for mobile phones, the H.264 codec has long been the lingua franca setting the direction for the industry. That plan, though, was put in place before our phones became smart and our tablets took on mobility. As such, the VP7/8 vs. H.264/5 discussion has a lot of prior history for two worlds that have not exactly matched with regard to experience. 

The telecom world indemnification on codecs has probably been a baseline requirement since the first use of a mux (a.k.a. multiplexer). The advocates of open-sourced codecs were zealous in their objections to H.264 at the last WebRTC Conference & Expo, in fact, though they may have displayed a degree of naiveté on the history of the patent infringement battles of late. Indemnification in telecom is a great reducer of risk, and carriers fully expect that their vendors will protect them.

So which is the safer codec to use, the open source VP8 or the H.264 indemnified solution? To turn a phrase, once again the answer is in the eyes of the beholder. For the larger corporations, however, it is sure to be the latter as the carriers do not want to single source anything (which is ironic since that is what they want their customers to do), and for that reason I think that as result of next week’s IETF meeting H.264 will be a supported codec for WebRTC. 

The winners in all of this will be Vidyo and all of the SBC strategists, though funny enough I do not really see any losers. Perhaps there is a big enough implementation on the software side that H.264 will cause a concern, and perhaps we should count Flash as a winner since confusion is sure to keep them in the mix. And perhaps the bigger question is not whether H.264 is supported, but how it can be called out from the mobile phone into the app. 

Want to learn more about the latest in WebRTC? Be sure to attend WebRTC Conference & Expo, Nov. 19-21 in Santa Clara, Calif. Stay in touch with everything happening at WebRTC Conference & Expo. Follow us on Twitter.

Edited by Rachel Ramsey
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