The HTML 5 <video> tag and H.264

The new HTML5 standard’s most prominently mentioned new feature is undoubtedly the video tag – this tag enables all compliant browsers to play video embedded in a site with no additional plugins

The only problem? The organizations responsible for choosing a video format are undecided. In one corner is H.264, used everywhere from Blu-Ray disc to military applications due to its tremendous efficiency, and in the other is Ogg Theora.

Ogg Theora is known to be less suitable for content delivery. It requires higher bandwidth to deliver quality similar to that of H.264, which will increase infrastructure costs noticeably if universally adopted.

So why Ogg?

A common argument is patent encumbrance. H.264, while an international standard, is a creation of the Motion Picture Experts Group (MPEG), an organization known for their propensity to charge royalty fees to makers of DVD playback hardware and software. If the MPEG folks were to start asking for royalties from the Mozilla organization, for example, the latter would find itself in quite a dire financial position. This fear is borne out by prior attempts of large patent-holders to begin profiting from a wide deployment of their intellectual property, such as the Compuserve GIF format.

However, these past encounters with patent law also illustrate the impracticality, and indeed futility of these money making attempts. Neither GIF nor any other patented format has succeeded in exacting fees from end users or distributors of the mechanisms used to display or output these formats. MP3, a standard of the MPEG group as old as the laserdisc, remains cheap to implement.

The Motion Picture Experts Group has shown itself to be a responsible steward of international standards, reducing the concerns and possible benefits surrounding the Ogg format or other open-source codecs like it. As soon as H.264 is universally adopted, people everywhere can begin taking advantage of video as ubiquitously as they can view web pages. No plugins, no addons, no special devices, no more concern around compatibility.

Will it play anywhere? Yes. That’s a big deal, and it’s why H.264 should be accepted by everyone.

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