I think Chairman Gruber asks the right questions, namely:
“5. Who is happy about this?”
my first concern regarding this announcement was what it means for me as a small-time indie filmmaker showing my stuff on my own website. getting the Theora ogg file to work for Sleepwalking was a headache, and I’m sure it’s still not working right. or at all.
making an h.264 was a no-brainer with FCP/QuickTime, and required no extra installations of third-party software. HTML5 browsers that support the video tag have a basic built-in player, even, so it didn’t require any special setup on my website. a Flash (h.264) version presented several headaches I won’t get into, and i’m still not happy with the Flash implementation on the site, but it’s a necessary evil until IE9 proliferates. naturally, this required Adobe Media Encoder, part of the Adobe Production Suite CS4, which cost around $1700, and installation of a Flash player on my web server. i found a free one, and i’m pretty sure it’s worth every penny.
the needed resources to create a Theora version (necessary for Firefox HTML5) were free, but required downloading some weird stuff and reading a bunch of instructions and crossing-fingers and scouring user forums and — frankly, this is why i never looked back after leaving my PC. while i didn’t even bother with VP8 (since Chrome currently supports h.264), i will say that process appeared to be as confusing as the Theora setup. then again, this was late May, and VP8 was a new beast.
so now every major browser should be supported, but in the end, the best viewing experience for Sleepwalking via the website is with the iPad.
installing new codecs, configuring web players… are these solvable problems? no doubt. for a web guy. I’m a film guy, with no desire to be a web guy, and no money to pay one just yet. hence my fear about a potential global switch away from h.264 to WebM.
h.264 was by far the most painless setup, in my experience. some of this comes down to “you get what you pay for.” the free stuff seemed all over the place — too open, if you ask me. i don’t have time to create new problems between my film and my audience. the streamlined FCP to HTML5 h.264 workflow Just Works.
but i’m a small guy. and small guys don’t determine web standards. big online content providers do.
when people want “open,” they really want “free.”
WebM’s VP8 may be even more “open” than h.264, despite the latter’s eternally-free license for non-commercial-use. in truth, both are open standards; VP8 is completely royalty-free, and that’s the real difference. will content providers want to change? maybe. when Jobs announced the iPad would not support Flash, i was agreeable, but even i did not think so many content providers would be HTML5 compliant by launch day. so certainly companies are willing to change.
still, that move was not urged by Apple’s insistence alone, but it was partnered with Apple’s commitment to HTML5 (and h.264) wrapped up in a revolutionary package called the iPad. even two-years-plus of millions of Flash-less iPhones wasn’t enough to see most video sites provide HTML5 support for video. even after the iPad’s success, very few sites have ditched Flash completely, and Adobe will be supporting the VP8 codec in their Flash wrapper. why? for one thing, IE (with Flash support) still dominates a huge share of browser usage.
also, it should also be pointed out that a lot of Flash implementations are still using the h.264 codec, just wrapped in a Flash wrapper, instead of, say, a QuickTime one. switching from Flash h.264 to HTML5 h.264 was a code issue for a lot of sites, rather than a codec issue.
so there’s opportunity and precedent for content providers to adopt a sweeping change, but why would they this time? the simple answer is obvious: money.
the details, however, aren’t so simple. with no licensing fees, providers could sell content without having to pay a license fee to MPEG-LA (owners of h.264). on the other hand, if you’ve already paid for your 5-year block license with h.264, there’s no big hurry to spend a ton of time and money recompressing everything in a completely new codec. then, there’s the fact that maybe it won’t be so free after all, if MPEG-LA has anything to say about it. Google is confident they’ve done their due diligence, and has the resources to fight it besides.
still, in the end, content providers will do what is in the best interests of the majority of their customers. without a revolutionary product (like three-million-in-three-months revolutionary) to partner this change, WebM will at best co-exist with h.264 for quite a while. all things Chromium innovate, but when it comes to the real motivator for a global standards revolution (dollars), it’s no iPad.
for more details about h.264 licensing matters, check out this engadget article.
for more details about WebM, see this cnet article.