WebRTC World Feature Article

December 18, 2012

HTML5 Specification Finalized but Still Short a Royalty-Free Video Codec

The wait is over: the Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C) has declared that the HTML5 specification, along with Canvas 2D, is considered complete. This means that businesses and developers now have a stable target to code for. Until the specification ultimately becomes a Recommendation in 2014, which is the final phase in the W3C's process, HTML5 will undergo a period of interoperability and performance testing.

"The broader the reach of Web technology, the more our stakeholders demand a stable standard," said W3C CEO Jeff Jaffe, in a statement. "As of today, businesses know what they can rely on for HTML5 in the coming years, and what their customers will demand. Likewise, developers will know what skills to cultivate to reach smart phones, cars, televisions, ebooks, digital signs and devices not yet known."

While HTML5 is well on its way, there are still lingering questions in regard to the specification's video tag, as the W3C has yet to decide on a codec. The decision can't be easy, either, with Apple and Microsoft backing H.264, while Google and Mozilla stand behind VP8, the video component of WebM. To make the situation more complicated, VP8 — which became open source after Google bought its owner, On2 Technologies — is in an uncertain position after MPEG-LA, the licensing authority for H.264, started assembling a patent pool for patent-holders with technologies considered essential to VP8.

Since the W3C has a royalty-free patent policy, this has stopped VP8 from becoming an ideal option. As such, there is still no clear contender to H.264, which is widely used, but the W3C does plan to stick to its policy and hopes to find a royalty-free codec.

Indeed, this has been the guiding principle behind WebRTC, as well, which is now available in Google Chrome and was recently demoed in Mozilla Firefox. However, WebRTC's only currently supported video codec is VP8, so it seems both WebRTC and HTML5 are currently in the same situation in terms of finding a royalty-free video codec to suit the W3C's policy.

Edited by Rachel Ramsey


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