Daniel Eran Dilger
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Ogg Theora, H.264 and the HTML 5 Browser Squabble

Prince McLean, AppleInsider

Pundits are roasting Apple over a scuffle raised by Mozilla and Opera to define the free Ogg Theora video codec as the official way to present video on the web in the new HTML 5 specification. The problem: HTML isn’t supposed to define content codecs, and even if it were, Ogg Theora, commercially abandoned nearly a decade ago, doesn’t have what it takes to deliver video on the increasingly mobile web.

Ogg Theora, H.264 and the HTML 5 Browser Squabble
While the tech media has largely portrayed the disagreement as either a huge roadblock for HTML 5 or a war between free software advocates and big corporations, the reality is that specifications like HTML 5 are not intended to enforce political views but rather to foster interoperability. At issue is the video format specified in the new HTML 5, a situation that is new because the HTML specification has never defined a simple system for embedding video in the same way that web developers can place ordinary graphics within their pages.

While web browsers use the “img” tag to recognize and display graphical elements in any number of formats, from GIF to JPEG to PNG, there has never been an equivalent way to simply place video or audio files within HTML. Instead, web developers have have to post their video as an embedded file, which various browsers may or may not know how to display properly.

This conspicuously missing link in seamless audio and video playback on the web has a history that parallels QuickTime and the development of the ISO MPEG video standards themselves, the same industry standards that Mozilla, Opera and some open source advocates are railing against. It also, of course, involves Microsoft.

The QuickTime Plugin
Displaying video that works properly across all browsers has been a tricky feat, as competing multimedia playback plugins usually only support specific container files (used to store the media data) and codecs (used to compress the audio and video data). Web developers originally used MJPEG (Motion JPEG), a simple video format that plays video using a series of JPEG stills and uses a basic raw WAV file for audio. That is the only format that works across browsers, but isn’t very efficient in terms of quality versus download size.

Apple’s QuickTime predated the web as a system for playing back video in a variety of different codecs, including MJPEG, and could support new codec components from third parties. When the web began to take off in the mid 90s, Apple provided a QuickTime plugin for Netscape and other browsers that enabled them to play audio and video directly within the browser. This initially made QuickTime the way to deliver video on the web, particularly in a world where Macs made up a disproportionate ratio of both web users and web developers.

After realizing the significance of the open web and its potential to marginalize its Windows monopoly, Microsoft targeted Netscape for death and took aim at QuickTime as well. Microsoft licensed the NCSA’s SpyGlass browser code that Netscape was built upon and produced Internet Explorer, which it then bundled with Windows for free to destroy any market for Netscape’s browser.

Microsoft’s War on QuickTime
Copying and killing QuickTime proved to be harder. Microsoft had already failed to match QuickTime’s performance with its own Video for Windows product in the early 90s, and then found itself in hot legal water after it intentionally stole Apple’s QuickTime code in an effort to make VfW a viable competitor on Windows in the San Francisco Canyon scandal. After years of failing to unseat QuickTime as the standard for video playback on Mac and Windows systems, Microsoft stepped up its efforts to take over web video in the late 90s by simply making Internet Explorer ignore the QuickTime plugin users had installed.

In the Microsoft Monopoly trial that centered around the company’s abuse of Netscape, Apple executives testified that while Netscape worked fine with the QuickTime plugin, successive versions of Internet Explorer increasingly failed to properly send video to QuickTime, creating the impression for consumers that QuickTime didn’t work correctly. In the trial, Apple presented a chart of 22 media file types, all of which were passed to QuickTime by Netscape 4 on Windows 95. In Internet Explorer 3 however, only 15 were passed to the QuickTime plugin; in IE 4.0 only 11 were passed, and under Windows 98, only 4. Microsoft’s lawyers only claimed that nobody could prove the company was breaking compatibility with QuickTime on purpose and maliciously.

At the same time however, Microsoft representatives were threatening to destroy Apple’s business within video authoring unless the company agreed to scuttle QuickTime playback on Windows and grant Microsoft competition-free access and control over video playback on Windows. Unlike other companies that played along with Microsoft’s threats, Apple turned down Microsoft’s famous demand to “knife the baby” and took on the company head to head in video playback.

Vigorous competition against Microsoft resulted in the release of QuickTime 3 against a variety of technology announcements by Microsoft that largely failed to materialize. Microsoft’s promised, cross-platform Active Movie never arrived, and the intent to deliver a new Windows Media container file also never gained real traction. Instead, in 1998 the ISO adopted QuickTime’s container as the basis for the forthcoming MPEG 4 suite of multimedia standards, a high profile rejection of Microsoft’s plans.

Microsoft pushes Flash against Adobe
While fighting Apple on the QuickTime front in video, Microsoft was also embroiled in a fight against efforts by Adobe and Sun to promote PGML, based on Adobe’s PostScript, as an interoperable, open standard for presenting vector graphics on the web. Microsoft teamed up with Macromedia to submit its own competing VML standard. The W3C standards body eventually worked out a compromise that drew from both, creating a new standard called SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics).

Rather than supporting the new SVG standard, Microsoft continued to push VML in Internet Explorer, resulting in market confusion and no real adoption of SVG. On top of that, in order to help scuttle any adoption of Adobe’s free SGV web plugin, Microsoft began bundling Macromedia’s proprietary Flash player with Internet Explorer 5 in 1999, giving the Flash vector graphics plugin the same broad audience over the Windows monopoly that it had leveraged in reverse to kill QuickTime by breaking compatibility with certain movie formats.

Microsoft’s anti-compeitive suppression of QuickTime subsequently resulted in a new application for Flash: video presentation. Because the plugin was widely installed, it could be used to package up proprietary video for opaque playback in the browser. Rather than linking to a standard video file for browser playback using a video plugin, web developers began to package their videos up as a closed Flash movie file for playback by the Flash player plugin Microsoft was widely distributing with Internet Explorer.

Anyone who didn’t use Internet Explorer could download the Macromedia Flash plugin, just like downloading the QuickTime plugin. The difference was that because web video was now locked up in the Flash format, it couldn’t be played back using alternative players in the way that QuickTime-compatible movies can be played back by alternative media software. Additionally, Macromedia’s Flash player really only worked well on Windows, effectively tying Flash content to Internet Explorer.

Apple takes back media with the iPod
Having failed to take over web video itself, Microsoft had at least managed to attach web video to a format that worked best on Internet Explorer. The company then turned its attention to taking over standard video formats used in publishing music and video. Microsoft hoped to replace DVD’s ISO MPEG-2 standard with a high definition, heavily DRMed Windows Media format on the same disc, called iHD. Microsoft also pushed into the music business to replace MPEG MP3 with Windows Media Audio, enticing the studios with promises of pirate-proof DRM there as well.

However, Microsoft failed to deliver its promised Windows Media DRM technologies on time, resulting in an opening for Apple’s iPod and the iTunes music store. Apple adopted the ISO’s standard MPEG AAC (advanced audio codec), which enabled sophisticated data compression and supported studio-demanded DRM. The success of the iPod trampled Microsoft’s WMA as a commercial audio distribution format, and iTunes for Windows even managed to make AAC the new standard on both Macs and Windows, quite the coup for company that had been written off as a 2% also ran in the desktop wars.

Apple then did the same thing in video, promoting the state of the art MPEG H.264 standard for video compression in iTunes video with hardware video decoding support on the iPod for efficient playback. Having failed to gain any real traction in pushing WMV playback into DVDs as a quasi-standard, Microsoft managed to rubber stamp its own WMV codec through its SMTPE pet standards body in the US, resulting in it being renamed VC-1. It then got VC-1 licensing mandated as part of both the Blu-Ray and HD-DVD specifications, although only the ill fated HD-DVD ever really used it. Meanwhile, iTunes continued to popularize H.264 in the same way Apple had helped launch AAC among consumers.

Apple takes on WMV and Flash
Not content with simply encouraging the use of interoperable, open standards, Apple also took up the task of removing dependancies upon non-standard codecs designed to tie content to Windows exclusively. Microsoft had refused to support the latest version of WMA and WMV on the Mac, and Macromedia had done little to make its Flash plugin work well on Macs, Linux, or in other browsers besides Internet Explorer.

To ensure that commercial content could continue to play back everywhere, including its own Mac and iPod hardware, Apple refused to support Microsoft’s proprietary WMA and WMV playback on the iPod, channeling iPod demand into creating a music market that only rewarded interoperable formats from raw WAV audio to published standards such as MP3 and AAC. It did the same with iPod video, supporting only MPEG-4/H.264 formats at the expense of WMV, Real Video, and other proprietary formats.

With the iPhone, Apple did something parallel to Flash: it similarly refused to support video playback of Flash movies, officially citing that this was only because Flash, now owned by Adobe, didn’t work well enough to include it. While that was true, the real reason for killing Flash on the iPhone was to push web developers back toward publishing standard video formats rather that wrapping their video content up in a proprietary Flash binary.

Somewhat ironically, Microsoft itself has now taken aim at Adobe’s Flash by introducing its own copy originally called Sparkle, along with the Silverlight runtime. With Internet Explorer now facing increased competition and plummeting market share, Microsoft’s ability to assassinate competitors’ plugins as it did with QuickTime and its power to coronate others, as it did with the Flash plugin, have weakened.

HTML 5 and the Ogg Theora option
Meanwhile, the browsers taking away Microsoft’s control of the market, including Opera, Mozilla’s Firefox, Apple’s Safari, and Google’s Chrome, are working together to solve the problem of having no standardized way to present video. HTML 5 defines simple ways to embed video files so that the client browser can display them. Microsoft’s strategy seems to be to wait and see how those efforts develop, and perhaps attempt to derail them before they obsolete any real need for Flash or Microsoft’s own anti-interoperable, web-standards hostile, belated clone of Flash in Silverlight.

Apple already convinced Google to serve up its YouTube videos as H.264 in addition to Flash binaries, initially to support playback on the iPhone. Google has also demonstrated a version of its YouTube website delivering video using HTML 5’s native support for publishing H.264 video without Flash.

The remaining problem is that two browser companies that depend upon free distribution of their software are opposed to licensing the H.264 codec. Instead, they wanted the W3C to designate Ogg Theora as the official video codec of HTML 5. Ogg Theora is based upon VP3 video technology originally proprietary to On2, and subsequently abandoned after it became obsolete. Flash video is based on On2’s VP6, and Skype’s proprietary video conferencing uses VP7. In the face of interoperable standards published by the ISO, On2’s proprietary codecs are increasingly in the same boat as Microsoft’s WMV/VC-1, without Microsoft’s remaining clout.

The open source community has embraced the obsolete VP3, abandoned by On2 back in 2001, as a viable alternative to today’s H.264. For software developers, using Ogg Theora allows them to avoid paying royalties in order to share in the patent pool contributed by MPEG’s member companies. This has also resulted in adoption of Ogg Theora by video game developers and organizations like Wikipedia.

Ogg Theora vs. H.264
However, hardware makers like Apple and Nokia are opposed to HTML 5 being tied to Ogg Theora for a number of more practical reasons. First, the cost of licensing H.264 isn’t significant to these companies in the way it is to smaller software developers, and particularly the browser vendors who hope to distribute their software for free. While Apple also distributes Safari for free, most of its users are buying Macs or iPhones to run it. In contrast, Mozilla’s entire Firefox business model revolves around Google paying it around $50 million a year to direct search queries its way. Larger companies like Google similarly have no cost-related preference for using Ogg Theora.

Second, since companies like Apple, Google and Nokia are already invested in H.264, the prospect of having to support an old obsolete codec is not at all desirable. Google has noted that there’s no way the company could serve up YouTube’s billions of streams using the much less efficient Ogg Theora codec, saying it would consume the world’s Internet bandwidth due to its less sophisticated compression. Ogg Theora also lacks the hardware acceleration available for H.264, making it completely unattractive for use in mobile devices from netbooks to smartphones.

Opera and Mozilla don’t make mobile hardware, so they don’t care about this. Mozilla doesn’t even have a viable mobile browser. Opera’s mobile business largely centers on Opera Mini, which isn’t really a web browser but actually an applet that displays pre-rendered web pages served by Opera’s web proxy servers to less powerful phones that can’t run a real browser. All of the advanced new mobile devices use a WebKit-based browser, from Safari on the iPhone and iPod touch to the Palm Pre, BlackBerry Storm, and Google Android devices.

Apple has also voiced concerns that Ogg Theora may be encumbered by unknown patents. That risk isn’t significant to Mozilla and Opera, both of whom could simply abandon the format for something else in the same way that the web temporarily abandoned commercial support for GIF after Unisys tried to sue everyone for using it. However, for a company like Apple that has built a business that requires selling media content and supporting hardware acceleration in mobile devices, it’s not possible to randomly drop a codec technology when a submarine patent threat appears. Apple also has a bankroll to attract patent trolls that Mozilla and Opera both lack.

A problem that lacks any need for a solution
The real problem with the squabble over the future of HTML 5 is that the standard doesn’t need to specify an official codec. There’s no official codec for graphics; web developers can use JPEG, GIF, PNG, or any other format. If users can’t see the image, they might need to load a helper plugin. There is no problem related to lacking an official graphics format.

The same is true with video. In fact, despite all the outrage being trumpeted by Mozilla, there’s no reason the browser needs to license support for a video codec anyway. If users are smart enough to download Firefox, they can also download QuickTime and watch H.264 video on Apple’s licensing dime, or they can download one of the free H.264 capable codecs available for FOSS platforms, including the GPLed x264, the engine used by VLC, FFmpeg, and HandBrake.

Further, there’s no real reason web developers need to only serve one codec. It’s easy in HTML 5 to offer up video as H.264, Ogg Theora, and even as a Flash binary so that anyone can watch it. As far as saving organizations like Wikipedia from having to license MPEG, there’s no real problem for users to download a package of open source codec components for QuickTime or their media system playback of choice that enable Ogg Theora playback on non-mobile systems.

This whole imagined war over the official video codec of HTML 5 simply a non-issue. What is an issue is HTML 5 adoption. In addition to promoting interoperable video, HTML 5 also enables rich application support including client side databases for fat client sophistication and offline support. HTML 5 is designed to replace the need for a proprietary plugin like Flash or Silverlight just to present web content with sophisticated client-side interoperability.

The only question now is who will deliver the best HTML 5 support, and how quickly the foot-draggers seeking to hold onto the past decade’s proprietary technologies will be left behind.

  • enzos

    A most informative and compelling article nonetheless. I wondered what happened to the Quicktime plugin at the end of the 90s: as per usual Microsoft had applied their talons instead of their talents to the issue.


  • enzos

    Seem to have lost the first half of that post.. in which Dan was lambasted for inventing unnecessary new words like ‘coronate’ (?) for crown 0r anoint.


  • gothgod

    coronet |ˌkôrəˈnet; ˌkär-|
    1 a small or relatively simple crown, esp. as worn by lesser royalty and peers or peeresses.
    • a circular decoration for the head, esp. one made of flowers.

    (from the osx dictionary)

  • Joel

    coronate : to coronate (third-person singular simple present coronates, present participle coronating, simple past and past participle coronated) 1. To crown a sovereign; to invest a prince with the insignia of royalty, on his succeeding to the sovereignty.

    From Wikipedia…


  • http://skliarie.blogspot.com skliarie

    All the h264 talk is nice and dandy while Apple is struggling for the codecs’s adoption. As a Linux user, I am afraid that once h264 is entrenched, the price for the licenses would jump tenfold, and MPEG will start actively pursuing unlicensed implementations, like ones utilized in VLC or ffmpeg.

    [H.264 has been fully entrenched for several years now, which is why everyone is using it. The standard was initially launched in 2003, two years after On2’s codec used in Ogg Theora was abandoned. Apple released QuickTime 7 with H.264 support in April 2005. That’s almost a half decade ago.

    Because H.264 is owned by an association of patent owners (many being hardware makers like Apple and Sony), it is in nobody’s interests to jack up the price of licensing. If it were owned by Microsoft, then yes, there’d be clear interests by the owner to screw everyone.

    As far as worrying about GNU/Linux applications, because there is no real money to be made in selling an H.264 implementation, there’s no impetus to sue anyone over licensing, and nothing has happened in the last half decade of H.264. If anything, MPEG benefits from GNU’s use of x264 as it helps to maintain support for the standard. And who would they sue? – Dan ]

  • talonhawk

    The fact remains that defining a _required_ codec is out of scope for the spec.

    There is no _required_ format for , which is what and are trying to emulate. So why would it be desirable to start now?

    Good write up.

  • talonhawk

    Opps, html gets stripped.

    Missing words above are , and

  • talonhawk

    img, video and audio.

  • http://blog.cytv.com cy_starkman

    Woah, I was about to write a whine about no new articles. This is a masterpiece. Dan, your historical knowledge and ability to research is excellent.

    I feel wiser by reading it. You mussed up one instance of SVG “Adobe’s free SGV web plugin, Microsoft began bundling Macromedia’s proprietary Flash player with Internet Explorer 5 in 1999″, LOL, a triviality, but mentionable.”

    I always wondered why SVG happened and where it went and the Macromedia part. Flash is tedious and slow, even on a desktop, it can’t print properly, bring on HTML 5

  • http://verbalshadow.wordpress.com verbalshadow

    It is my understanding that the whole “Google has noted that there’s no way the company could serve up YouTube’s billions of streams using the much less efficient Ogg Theora codec” to be a major misunderstanding on the Chris’ part. Please look at http://people.xiph.org/~greg/video/ytcompare/comparison.html for standard youtube quality comparison and http://people.xiph.org/~maikmerten/youtube/ for HD quality. Are they biased? A little maybe but no one I know from the other camp has offered a rebuttal with documentation like this.

    [You are asking if the group that is trying to push Ogg Theora is biased?

    Also, note that Google isn’t saying that Ogg Theora can’t deliver a comparable picture, but that it can’t do it within the same bandwidth. That’s because Theora is an obsolete codec, and the only road to improving it is encumbered with patents, many of which are in the MPEG pool.

    So this is all about free advocates burying their heads in the sand thinking that something that is currently free (because it is commercially non-viable!) could continue to be free if we give it a decade to catch up to what we already have, rather than just using what we already have. Even if you have a bunch of video experts willing to contribute the next ten years of their work for free, time = money, and somebody’s got to pay. – Dan]

  • http://home.comcast.net/~daguy daGUY

    I think it’s correct for HTML 5 to not require a specific format for videos – after all, there’s no similar requirement for images, which can be JPEG, GIF, PNG, etc. Ian Hickson said it best: whether the spec requires a specific format or not, that won’t change how the browser vendors feel about it, so there’s no point in including one.

    The real point of the new tags is to make audio and video standard DOM elements that can be manipulated just as easily as images and anything else. If you think about it, it’s kind of crazy that it’s taken until now to even start to achieve that.

    And besides, the audio and video tags support multiple sources, so it’s easy to serve up media in different formats and have the browser pick the appropriate one. Just point to OGG and MPEG4 versions of your video, and it’ll play in every browser other than IE (which we don’t care about anymore!).

  • http://benjamin-newton.com/ bhuot

    Read the MPEG-LA licensing website. When the initial period is over (now in 2013), it will cost users $2,500 just to post one video in MP4. The iPhone can only play MP4 video. I am not going to pay $2,500 to post a couple videos. People are not going to be very happy when the average user finds this out. As far as standards go, the entire web is based on open standards. Things like Google and MySpace would not exist if we had to pay to use HTML, JEGs, PHP, Flash, etc. Apple can distribute a Ogg Theora Quicktime plugin already made by the open source community and support MP4 for the large corporations and Ogg Theora for the small user. They might even get rid of the fees to distribute MP4 video if they support Theora as MP4 audio doesn’t cost any money to use (to distribute) because we already have MP3 which has no licensing fees for small users. Another thing is that supporting MP4 for the standard or not specifying it at all is going to promote Flash video. Adobe’s website specifies that they have already paid for the MP4 use for non-commercial use for MP4 encoded into Flash. I know Apple must think they are defeating Flash, but Adobe must be trilled by this decision. And as far as MP4 not being good enough, the codec Google now uses for You Tube is worse quality than Ogg Theora. I converted some videos from iMovie into MP4 video and Ogg Theora with Quicktime and the Ogg Theora was smaller in size for the quality I needed. MP4s videos can be made small but the files don’t look that good or they take a long time to encode.

    [MPEG licensing has changed and will change. Note the comments Apple posted when QT6 shipped with QT Broadcaster – Apple had to embargo the release until MPEG-LA agreed to better terms. The future roadmap for licensing does appear scary, but that’s because it’s not finished.

    Ironically, while everyone takes MPEG-LA licensing in 2013 as a done deal that can’t be modified, some of the same people are saying that HTML 5 will never get finished in a decade, despite the fact that it’s already here. It really comes down to deciding what you want to believe. Apple has the leverage to change things. – Dan]

  • http://benjamin-newton.com/ bhuot

    MPEG licensing has changed and will change. Note the comments Apple posted when QT6 shipped with QT Broadcaster – Apple had to embargo the release until MPEG-LA agreed to better terms. The future roadmap for licensing does appear scary, but that’s because it’s not finished.

    Ironically, while everyone takes MPEG-LA licensing in 2013 as a done deal that can’t be modified, some of the same people are saying that HTML 5 will never get finished in a decade, despite the fact that it’s already here. It really comes down to deciding what you want to believe. Apple has the leverage to change things. – Dan

    Until the, I’ll stick with Ogg Theora or Flash for video and tell others to do the same. As for HTML 5, standards bodies are especially known for taking a decade to get things done.

  • http://benjamin-newton.com/ bhuot

    I love your blog and am a big Apple fan, but I only side with Apple when I think they are right and when they have superior technology. I used Windows and then Linux before OS X came out. I appreciate your understanding of the industry and usual willingness to stick to the facts. It is sad that you and the industry are willing to gamble on this one. $2,500 may not be a lot to you but no matter how good Apple products are or even how powerful a force they become in the industry the MPEG LA licensing authority owns the patents and can and will do whatever it thinks is best for itself. The truth is the more things Apple makes dependent on MP4, the less leverage they will have. If they support Ogg Theora in Quicktime, that will give them a lot more leverage. It is sad that the industry only thinks big corporations concerns matter. That is very short sided. How do you think Google started anyway – it sure couldn’t have afforded to pay licensing fees for all the open source technologies it used when it first came out.

  • http://verbalshadow.wordpress.com verbalshadow

    You said, ”
    Also, note that Google isn’t saying that Ogg Theora can’t deliver a comparable picture, but that it can’t do it within the same bandwidth. That’s because Theora is an obsolete codec, and the only road to improving it is encumbered with patents, many of which are in the MPEG pool. ”

    While it may not apply to all videos the ones demoed show that they are about the same size and smaller in some cases. That means the same or less bandwidth used so that argument does not hold unless the other camp can show how this was a fluke.

    Old technology does not mean it is inferior in fact a having a well understood tech based allows use to be much more sure of the the threats out there like patents which realistic are only as bad as they are in the United States.

    The original Apple computers and Unix were vastly Superior to Windows 3 and Windows 95 so on and so forth. But definitely older then either one. By moving to BSD based Apple admitted it was superior to their old base. That tech is much older then anything in a modern Windows (Vista or Seven) but vastly superior again. I don’t believe that the old tech argument holds to the light of day.

    The Merits of each format are important and the ones we have brought up are.
    -1= disadvantage 0=no/marginal advantage 1=large advantage

    Quality, Size, Bandwidth, Patent Issues, Licensing
    H.264 0,0,0,-1,-1
    OGG 0,0,0,-1,1

    Above is the current status as I see it. I could be totally wrong.
    But no one has posted any actual counter data that I can find.

  • http://crankyoldnutcase.blogspot.com/ The Mad Hatter


    Several points I disagree with you on:

    1) Its not Internet Explorer, its Internet Exploder
    2) The Bilski case affects the ability of patents to affect software
    3) If Software patents are dead, licensing is also dead
    4) Quality in Ogg is as good as H.264
    5) File size does not appear to be a big issue
    6) Thus bandwidth does not appear to be a big issue
    7) Popularity of the file type will depend on the user

    AVI won the format war for downloadable video, and MP3 won the format war for downloadable audio. Both won because the public liked them, much to the annoyance of the hardware and software companies who would have preferred their own formats. They were adopted because they did what people wanted, quickly and easily. Also because they didn’t incorporate DRM.

    It’s quite possible that the Ogg formats will win the war for playable media. Wikipedia’s backing is a powerful force. I understand that many other sites intend to back the Ogg formats as well. And make no mistake, this is a war of numbers. Various vendors can and will try to push their own proprietary formats (Microsoft Silverlight is what the 2010 Winter Olympics will be webcast with, even though they’ve lost the MLB.COM account). But one of the most important factors is that the Ogg formats don’t contain DRM, and will probably allow easy downloading, which will be a huge advantage to many users.

    That said, HTML5 should not have specified a file format, no matter how much people like myself would prefer a totally free format.

  • http://blog.cytv.com cy_starkman

    Is AVI a codec, i thought it was more a container like quicktime.

    I wouldn’t call AVI the winning container. Flash, QT and AVI all have strong adoption, sites even offering more than one of the three.

    Codec wise the MPEG group are doing pretty well since they are quite common as the codec inside all 3 containers. Unless one is reviewing the preferred formats in their video collection from P2P/Copyright Liberated sources, in which case it is DiVX which is guess what, using MPEG group code.

    OGG? It’s on wikipedia and I remember a tiny flurry of activity back in 2001 maybe. Wikipedia is massive and puny at the same time, it has the financial clout of a peanut with the search result clout of, well a Wikipedia.

    In a game of numbers, those with the most numbers win the game.

    When it comes to downloadable media, the game lies not so much with the user but with the provider and the providers interests.

    Unless users start being the provider (as per P2P) in which case it would seem OGG Video is long dead and MPEG be it via QT, Flash, AVI or DiVX is closing in on being universal.

    Got a DVD to OGG ripper, oh yeah, those >OGG rippers are all the rage.

  • http://matthewfabb.com/ Matthew Fabb

    One of the mistakes in this article makes concerning Flash is leaving out that Netscape included the Flash Player before Internet Explorer, thanks to a mult-imillion dollar deal with Macromedia. Here’s a link to part of an old press release from 1998 announcing the deal:
    Microsoft ended up bundling the Flash Player with Internet Explorer 5 with no money from Macromedia to compete with Netscape, as including a popular plugin was seen as an advantage.

    From the article: “Having failed to take over web video itself, Microsoft had at least managed to attach web video to a format that worked best on Internet Explorer.” Yet the Flash Player worked fine on Netscape, with pioneered the plugin format, afterall Macromedia wouldn’t have paid millions to get their plugin on a browser that it didn’t support properly. Meanwhile, this was all before Flash video took off. Even when Flash Player 6 included video, it wasn’t used much at first because of other plugins like RealTime Player, Quicktime and Windows Media Player were dominate. Microsoft wanted it’s own format to be used for video, which is why when it’s Flash competitor, Silverlight first came out, it had very basic functionality but included HD video.

    The article ignores the fact that Adobe included the h.264 codec in the Flash Player 9. This is one of the reasons it’s easy for Google to include h.264 videos for the iPhone and for their HTML5 video tag example, as those same files can be used inside their Flash video player for YouTube.

  • http://www.roughlydrafted.com danieleran


    There is no mistake regarding Netscape and Flash. Netscape installed a lot of plugins for users (including Apple’s QuickTime), but those all became immaterial once Microsoft swooped down and obliterated Netscape’s business by bundling IE.

    Without being bundled with Windows, Flash would not have become adopted. And you are right in noting that Flash was not initially used for video; that is the point you seem to have missed. QuickTime was already serving video. Once IE destroyed competition from Netscape and intentionally marginalized QuickTime playback by breaking it in IE (which had become THE INTERNET to most Windows users), Flash was bent into a video distribution hack due to being widely distributed by its use by Microsoft to thwart SVG.

    Once Microsoft killed Netscape, QuickTime and SVG, Flash became the next thing to covet, and tada: Silverlight. Flash doesn’t really do anything useful beyond serving as a video player for desktop Windows users without QuickTime installed, so Silverlight doesn’t try to do everything Flash does, it just attempts to replace what Flash is most commonly used for: video distribution.

    The fact that Adobe is trying to stay in the game with H.264 support in Flash is also immaterial. It is no longer necessary.

  • DarkPhoenix

    I have to agree with the whole licensing issue. Even if the licensing was cheap, it is in violation of Gecko’s licensing scheme to include any portion that requires an outside user license, and H.264 would require that. I suspect ultimately this issue will be resolved by Dirac, which is not obsolete like Theora is.

    BTW, considering you’re mentioning the history of Microsoft’s attempted takeover of the video web market, I’m surprised you didn’t see the reason W3C wants to specify a codec in the HTML standard; because without one, web browsers will use whatever is convenient, and you can be sure due to monopoly pressure that the ultimate winner would likely be Microsoft’s even more obsolete WMV format, through Internet Explorer’s still impressive marketshare. Microsoft even pushes support for things like Silverlight and WMV to Firefox now, to capture as much of the web market as possible…

  • http://matthewfabb.com/ Matthew Fabb

    danieleran: “Without being bundled with Windows, Flash would not have become adopted.”
    Once the two major browsers Netscape and IE included Flash, it didn’t matter who became the dominate browser, Flash was going to be adopted. It could have been Netscape not IE and Flash would have still had gained the support it did. Also had Netscape not bundled Flash, success to the plugin would have likely come several years later after Netscape had died out.

    danieleran: “Once Microsoft killed Netscape, QuickTime and SVG, Flash became the next thing to covet, and tada: Silverlight.”
    Flash only became an issue to Microsoft because they were losing business in the video market to Macromedia. The big showcase Silverlight video sites like MLB.com, the Olympics and Netflix were all using the Window Media Player before switching to Silverlight. Windows Media Player was no longer cross-platform, so Microsoft released a Flash-like plugin to keep that market (although they still lost MLB to Flash).

    “Flash doesn’t really do anything useful beyond serving as a video player for desktop Windows users without QuickTime installed, so Silverlight doesn’t try to do everything Flash does, it just attempts to replace what Flash is most commonly used for: video distribution.”
    Video distribution is a very popular use case for Flash, but there’s also online games, web applications, streaming audio, web cam, 3D, augmented reality and a whole lot more. Which is why the latest version of Silverlight version 3, is now getting very close to the Flash Player feature wise. What I was talking about previously was referring just to version 1, as it seemed that Microsoft cut back a lot of features to get it to the market faster to stop Microsoft from losing more customers using Windows Media Player.

    “The fact that Adobe is trying to stay in the game with H.264 support in Flash is also immaterial. It is no longer necessary.”
    It’s still a big fact for the article to conviently ignore, especially when the article focuses on Flash video using the On2’s VP6 codec and ignores the h.264 support. This also comes up with YouTube support, where the article talks about Apple convincing Google to support the iPhone with the h.264 codec, ignoring the fact Google can server up the same video files to the iPhone as they use for their Flash version. Actually, Microsoft added H.264 support with Silverlight 3, and there’s examples already out there of Silverlight applications playing YouTube videos. So the fact that you can use one video file for Flash, Silverlight, Quicktime, or the HTML5 video tag (for browsers that support h.264) is a pretty big deal.

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  • http://crankyoldnutcase.blogspot.com/ The Mad Hatter


    AVI won to the point where my DVD player supports data disks now, and can play AVI files, or if I wanted to, I could use it as a music player with MP3 files, or a slide show player with JPG files.

    It doesn’t support most other video file formats, and since I have an IPod dock, and there’s no reason to use it as a music player, I’m not sure what other file types it supports. But it supports AVI because that’s what the consumer wants.

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