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Google open sources $124.6m video codec

VP8 set free as WebM

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Google I/O Google has taken a swashbuckling step towards open and license-free web video by open sourcing the leading codec from On2 Technologies, the video-compression outfit it acquired earlier this year for $124.6 million.

This morning, at Google's annual developer conference in San Francisco, Google vice president of product management Sunder Pichai announced that the company has open sourced On2's VP8 codec under a royalty-free license. The codec has been combined with the existing Ogg Vorbis audio codec to create a new open source format known as WebM, and Google has already started encoding videos with the codec on YouTube.

Beginning today, all videos that are 720p or larger uploaded to YouTube will be be encoded in WebM. Google has also released a WebM software developer kit, and you can find the source code here.

Pichai was joined on stage by Mozilla vice president of engineering Mike Shaver and Opera chief technology officer Håkon Wium Lie, who announced that their respective browsers, Firefox and Opera, will include the codec.

"I would like to say thank you to Google," Wium Lie said, "It's very civil of you to spend the time and money getting WebM off the ground."

The project is also backed by hardware partners such as AMD, ARM, and Nvidia. "Hardware acceleration is extremely important," said Pichai.

When Google first announced its acquisition of On2 in August 2009, it at least hinted it would open source the outfit's leading codec. In both the press release and the blog post trumpeting the pact, Google said that it believes “high-quality video compression technology should be a part of the web platform” - and that On2 is a way of reaching that goal.

Despite Google's move, the future of web video is still unclear. Apple and Microsoft have backed the patented H.264 standard and have no intention of moving to an open codec, arguing that such codecs would be subject to patent suits. Both Apple and Microsoft are part of the group that licenses H.264.

Steve Jobs has even claimed that a patent pool is being put together to "go after" Ogg Theora, the open source codec currently used bu Chrome, Firefox, and Opera. VP8 outperforms Ogg Theora, which is based on an earlier On2 codec, but it's still subject to the same FUD. ®

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