updated 05:20 pm EST, Tue January 11, 2011
Google yanks H264 in Chrome to force HTML5
Google today said it was dropping support for H.264 video in Chrome's HTML5 component. It acknowledged that the more popular format had an "important role" but hoped it could force adoption of its open but internally-developed WebM format as well as Ogg Theora. The company claimed that opening up the VP8 codec underneath led to major speed improvements as well as widespread adoption.
The changes would take place over the next two months and were being detailed in advance in hopes sites would voluntarily switch over their HTML5 video to WebM. It's unknown if extensions or plugins could bring the codec back.
Abandoning H.264 is a potentially risky move for Google. The majority of HTML5-enabled video on the web uses H.264 and in many cases was put online to help support the iPad and other devices that don't have built-in Flash. Whether or not WebM will survive as a format is equally unknown. In spite of Google's insistences, the MPEG-LA standards group, Apple and Microsoft have warned that WebM may violate patents and could face legal trouble without royalty payments.
Commenters on the company's blog entry have also accused Google of hypocrisy due to its connection to Adobe. Its willingness to not only endorse the use of Adobe's proprietary Flash standard but to integrate it directly into Chrome appears to directly contradict claims of only supporting open video formats. Flash players embedded into websites are open, but developers usually have a limited number of tools and can't contribute to the Flash spec.
The move similarly eliminates Chrome from the list of eligible browsers for certain tools, such as large-scale video encoders. Most professional video editing tools don't support WebM, and Google is unlikely to get any help for Final Cut Studio outside of an official plugin.