Software

Microsoft: Thanks, Google, we'll have your media codec for Edge

VP9 support coming for Windows 10's standards-happy new browser

By Neil McAllister in San Francisco

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Microsoft says it plans to build support for Google's open source VP9 streaming video codec into its Edge browser, and it's evaluating other open source audio and video formats for the web.

The Mountain View Chocolate Factory created VP9 as a replacement for H.264 that delivers better-quality video with lower bandwidth requirements. Chrome, naturally, has supported it for several years now, but Microsoft has not.

Redmond's Andy Glass and Jerry Smith said in a joint blog post on Monday that Redmond's initial implementation of VP9 will arrive as an experimental feature in Edge.

"Users can view their current experimental flag settings and change the defaults by navigating to 'about:flags' in the browser," the pair wrote. "A setting will be available that alternatively enables or disables VP9 support."

The reason for this tentative approach isn't lack of faith in the codec, they said. It's just that decoding VP9 is computationally expensive, and so only powerful PCs and laptops will offer the best experience when using the software decoder.

Microsoft also plans to offer a hardware-accelerated decoder, though. The trick there is getting more devices to support it. Glass and Smith said Redmond is working with various partners in the industry to create broader support for hardware decoding.

For Microsoft to be so interested in a technology created by one of its bitterest rivals isn't really so strange when you consider the patent minefield that is streaming media. Unlike H.264, Google created VP9 as not merely open source but also royalty-free.

That's an approach that's gaining momentum in the industry. Last week, a cross-section of big media players announced the Alliance for Open Media, a consortium that plans to pool resources to create an even better royalty-free codec by combining several that are currently under development. Microsoft is a member.

The software giant says it's also evaluating support for other open source audio and video formats, including OGG, Opus, and Vorbis. You can track what's going on with these efforts on the Edge browser's Platform Status Page.

As for when VP9 support will land in Edge, Glass and Smith gave no exact date. What they did say, though, is that the initial implementation will be included in an upcoming preview build of Windows 10 – so you'll need to be a member of the Windows Insider program to get it. ®

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