Skip

VP8 Redux?
March 7, 2013 5:54 PM   Subscribe

Google and MPEG LA come to an Agreement, putting to rest (for the most part in the current patent atmosphere) fears that VP8 isn't really royalty free.
posted by juiceCake (23 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
The rest of the world has found consensus in a new format and it currently moving on to what looks to be the far superior H.265. Google finally decides to removes its fingers from its ears and stop screaming "LA LA LA LA NO MPEG PATENTS I CAN'T HEAR YOU".

Talk about your non-events.
posted by Talez at 6:18 PM on March 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


To be fair, Google has a lot of really good software people on staff. Throwing enough resources into the mix they could likely build a really good system out of the VP8 core; look at the improvements they've made to the JavaScript engine in Chrome for example. H.265 is the current best protocol but non-open protocols don't get much improvement without competition.
posted by caution live frogs at 6:23 PM on March 7, 2013


1. Form patent cartel
2. Stall in licensing to competitors until industry abandons competitors' standards
3. Profit!
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 6:25 PM on March 7, 2013 [8 favorites]


H.265 is the current best protocol but non-open protocols don't get much improvement without competition.

Video compression makes non-trivial improvements because many stakeholders directly benefit from the world moving to something better. Verizon for instance can stuff content down the gullet of the US cell phone user, Comcast can stuff more channels down the pipe of its cable network and broadcast networks can stuff ever more channels into a mux.

People pay good money for these non-trivial improvements. They can, will and do happen with or without competition.

2. Stall in licensing to competitors until industry abandons competitors' standards

Google could have offered to indemnify users if they were serious about their "there's no MPEG LA patents used" shtick. This wasn't the MPEG LA stalling or stonewalling.
posted by Talez at 6:32 PM on March 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


The rest of the world has found consensus in a new format and it currently moving on to what looks to be the far superior H.265.

I've never heard of VP8 before. What makes it superior? Given that bandwidth and storage are now cheap and plentiful, is it really enough of a difference to make it worth the patent-licensing hassle?
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:26 PM on March 7, 2013


Whatevs, you can pry VRML out of my cold dead fingers.

I've been wanting to make a VRML joke for too long, so I had to cram the square peg into this ovoid hole.
posted by mediocre at 7:32 PM on March 7, 2013 [6 favorites]


Given that bandwidth and storage are now cheap and plentiful,

From the users perspective. Serving the amount of video Google serves, not cheap. Reduction in video size has a huge benefit.
posted by wildcrdj at 7:42 PM on March 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


When you're talking about a four billion hours a month of video and you can save even a cent off serving that hour of video you've recouped forty million bucks a month.
posted by Talez at 7:49 PM on March 7, 2013


Given that bandwidth and storage are now cheap and plentiful,

I'm sorry, but you are completely and utterly wrong here.

Slow and unreliable storage and bandwidth is cheap. Google, nor any other content provider, can afford neither.
posted by eriko at 7:52 PM on March 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


I've never heard of VP8 before. What makes it superior?

Nobody needs to ask anyone's permission or pay anyone licensing fees in order to implement something that encodes to or decodes from the format.

This is a big part of what's made the web so awesome (imagine if the reverse were true for encoding, serving, and decoding HTML). So it's probably important that the web has a common video format that meets this criteria at some point.

That was at least part of Google's apparent goals in 2010 when they bought the company that owned VP8, open sourced a library for it, and irrevocably licensed that patents. The only lingering concern was that MPEG LA would litigate against the potential competitor, which they claimed they could and might do. Today's announcement seems to lay that to rest.

I don't know if VP8 has other advantages. Reviews I've read are mixed. I can't tell the difference.
posted by weston at 7:58 PM on March 7, 2013


Isn't the reason that h265 is better is that there are cheap hardware decoders for it that don't exist for VP8 (yet)?
posted by empath at 8:02 PM on March 7, 2013


Isn't the reason that h265 is better is that there are cheap hardware decoders for it that don't exist for VP8 (yet)?

If you mean h264, then yes the widespread availability of hardware decoders is a big reason for its popularity.

h265 is still very new and while there are hardware implementations, deployment is not widespread. Whereas almost every computer / phone / etc has h264 hardware in there.
posted by wildcrdj at 8:04 PM on March 7, 2013


VP6, predecessor to VP8 has some interesting history.
Flash originally used the VP6 codec for its video, before later switching to MPEG. Then an open source project published VP6 code, which ON2 (the original company that created it before being bought by Google) claimed copyright infringement. Under Google, VP8 is now open-source.

It looks like the video industry (Cable, ISPs) is going toward HVEC (high efficiency video coding, also called H.265) for more efficient video compression. You can get 4K video at 60FPS on a 10Meg data line.

Whether Google can succeed in pushing their competing VP9 or not, I don't know. Certainly this step may help. Also, they have to actually finish it.

Another thing: a lot of hardware decoders these days (if not most) are actually programmable, and can be programmed to work with other codecs, as long as they use similar functions that the chip is optimized for.
posted by eye of newt at 8:06 PM on March 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


HEVC, not HVEC
posted by eye of newt at 9:16 PM on March 7, 2013


I've never heard of VP8 before. What makes it superior?

You may have heard of WebM - VP8 is the standard video codec inside WebM, along with vorbis for audio (WebM is based on the matroska container)

If you haven't heard of WebM, then basically it's part of the fight to kill flash on the web, as flash sucks for mobile devices. HTML5 supports streaming video, without the need for the flash plugin - think youtube etc. The problem is, the standard at the moment is h.264, which is patent encumbered, which means putting it in the browser has to be paid for (in the US). That means firefox can't do it as it's incompatible with their open source licence; same goes for chromium, google's open source version of chrome. Opera have said they wouldn't as it runs against the open principles of the web (no other key component of browser tech is patented in that way, excluding plugins).

So that leaves IE, safari who've implemented h.264 support - and chrome which could, but doesn't, not least so it won't fork from chromium.

Enter WebM. Google bought VP8, improved it so it's technically slightly better than h264, then open sourced it, and part of that is the WebM standard - a royalty free video streaming format, though the patent pool company MPEG-LA handling h.264 licensing disputed that it didn't infringe their patents. Firefox, opera and chrome implemented it. Except microsoft and apple won't implement it, as they're happier with h.264. So now we have half the browsers (with roughly half the marketshare) in the webm camp, and the other half in the h.264 camp. Awkward! So what's a video streaming site to do? Well in youtube's case, they encode videos with both, serving up html5 webm if available, then html5 h.264 if available, and finally h.264 via flash to boot. Most other places have just stuck with h.264 flash. Sigh.

Google have a WebM plugin for IE; microsoft have a h.264 plugin for chrome. The other wrinkle is that browsers can and do pass on support to the OS, so if you're running firefox on windows 7, it will support h.264 by handing it off to windows to decode. You also get this with mobile devices which have dedicated hardware to decode h.264. But open source OSes like linux don't have h.264 baked in as standard - because their licence forbids paid patent encumbered tech to be distributed (which would restrict further distribution). Windows XP does not have h.264 support baked in either, so I don't think it even works in IE8 on xp.

In short, it's a patent encumbered mess that's fractured the browser landscape, and prevented a universal video standard from supplanting flash wrapped h.264. Now that google has paid off MPEG-LA for a permanent distributable licence for patents that VP8 might (but probably doesn't) infringe, thus making it absolutely definitely permanently free for all, that might encourage some people who were waiting for concrete confirmation before backing WebM, including hardware vendors. But without microsoft and apple supporting WebM, it faces an uphill battle.

Of course the next round - VP9 and h.265 is coming soon, and we'll probably see the same thing all over again, for the same reasons. Flash streaming video forever! Sigh...
posted by ArkhanJG at 12:08 AM on March 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Windows XP does not have h.264 support baked in either, so I don't think it even works in IE8 on xp.

Doesn't Silverlight use H.264 for video (which runs on W2K and up)?

Reliable DRM is a prerequisite for media companies to license their product to Netflix and Amazon. Perhaps the major determinant of success in the codec "wars" at this point will be whatever Silverlight uses, as streaming video can be encumbered with DRM with Silverlight, but not as easily with Flash, from what I hear from the people who work on the backend side of these services.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:45 AM on March 8, 2013


So that leaves IE, safari who've implemented h.264 support - and chrome which could, but doesn't, not least so it won't fork from chromium.

Chrome has H.264 support, and has for a long time. Google said they were going to remove it sometime in 2011... but it hasn't happened yet.
posted by sbutler at 1:37 AM on March 8, 2013


Google said they were going to remove it sometime in 2011... but it hasn't happened yet.

Jan 2011. Thought they only ever used OS level h.264 support (to support hardware accelerated playback) rather than baked-in, which they were going to drop also; but unable to confirm - chromium does need a plugin or vavda though. Chrome OS uses OS level support for h.264 I believe.

Doesn't Silverlight use H.264 for video (which runs on W2K and up)? Comes with its own codec implementing H.264, as does flash. They both also support hardware acceleration up to a point, but I don't know whether they talk direct or hand off to OS for that.

Perhaps the major determinant of success in the codec "wars" at this point will be whatever Silverlight uses, as streaming video can be encumbered with DRM with Silverlight

DRM is certainly a factor; html5 video doesn't support it at all, so that will be plugin based for the forseeable future. But given silverlight has effectively just been end-of-lifed by not supporting it in metro IE and future development abandoned, it may well not be silverlight. Though it's supported for a long time yet as is on the desktop.
posted by ArkhanJG at 2:05 AM on March 8, 2013


The problem is, the standard at the moment is h.264, which is patent encumbered, which means putting it in the browser has to be paid for (in the US). That means firefox can't do it as it's incompatible with their open source licence

Not anymore.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:01 AM on March 8, 2013


Of course the next round - VP9 and h.265 is coming soon, and we'll probably see the same thing all over again, for the same reasons.

This statement in the press release seems to imply that the next version will be free of any threat, to some degree:

It further provides for sublicensing those VP8 techniques in one next-generation VPx video codec.
posted by juiceCake at 6:13 AM on March 8, 2013


Jan 2011. Thought they only ever used OS level h.264 support (to support hardware accelerated playback) rather than baked-in

Chrome appears to use ffmpeg, which means it's baked in. In fact, if you look at the Chromium repo you can see they're still updating the ffmpeg code Chrome/Chromium uses.
posted by sbutler at 10:29 AM on March 8, 2013


@ArkhanJG: I think that your issue with Chromium and H.264 support is that some distros chose to not compile Chromium with the included H.264 support because of licensing issues. But that's a distro choice, not a Google one.
posted by sbutler at 10:40 AM on March 8, 2013


ArkhanJG: "Of course the next round - VP9 and h.265 is coming soon, and we'll probably see the same thing all over again, for the same reasons. Flash streaming video forever! Sigh..."

I work in broadcasting. Buzz about h.265 is all over the place, and I don't think I've heard a single mention of VP9.

Google can be painfully quiet about the standards that it wants to push (and in many cases, pushes multiple competing standards). I think that this is a case of that, and that Google will only have limited success in pushing VP9 -- it might be useful to them in their own ecosystem (YouTube, Chrome, Android...), but they're never going to manage to influence the wider market. Heck, they launched WebM with big fanfare, and then seemed to step back and quietly abandon it.

VP9 would have to be absolutely amazing to win over h.265, especially given that the transition is already starting to take place. Also, don't forget that broadcast-grade encoding hardware/software is staggeringly expensive (especially anything first-gen). Players in the industry are stubborn, and are not going to transition twice. It's going to be hard enough to drag them away from h.264. Most of us using h.265 will need to also continue to support h.264 into the foreseeable future anyway, for backward compatibility. Storage isn't cheap either.

Simply put, consumers don't care about the MPEG cartel, and the industry doesn't care about the MPEG cartel, because they're all members of it. The ideology of the battle that Google is fighting is great, but they're not going to win.
posted by schmod at 6:17 PM on March 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


« Older New Parasites for 2013/ The Cat That Screamed Like...   |   Scott Kelby on composition Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post