The Gloves Are Off: Google Chrome Browser Will Drop Support For H.264 Video Codec

In the world of online video, there is a battle brewing over the next dominant standard for online video, especially on HTML5 Web pages. Today, Google took the gloves off and declared that it will soon stop supporting the H.264 video codec in its Chrome browser. Instead, it will only support open-source technologies such as its own WebM initiative (with its VP8 codec) and the open-source Theora video codec, which is used by Firefox.

You could see this a mile away. Google announced the WebM project last May, along with other partners Mozilla and Opera (Apple, which relies on H.264 in its mission to squash Flash, was conspicuously absent). The H.264 codec is owned by the MPEG-LA consortium, and may in the future require a license. Although the consortium was pressured into promising that H.264 streaming would be free forever that is only for non-commercial Internet video.

In a post today on the Chromium blog, product manager Mike Jazayeri gives the following explanation for why Chrome will no longer support H.264:

We expect even more rapid innovation in the web media platform in the coming year and are focusing our investments in those technologies that are developed and licensed based on open web principles. To that end, we are changing Chrome’s HTML5 support to make it consistent with the codecs already supported by the open Chromium project. Specifically, we are supporting the WebM (VP8) and Theora video codecs, and will consider adding support for other high-quality open codecs in the future. Though H.264 plays an important role in video, as our goal is to enable open innovation, support for the codec will be removed and our resources directed towards completely open codec technologies.

But how can Google justify dropping support for H.264, but not Flash (which also uses H.264 for video)? Simple, Adobe is also one of the WebM partners and will support WebM technologies inside Flash. Yup, Flash is siding with Google on this one. So the battle lines here are really between Google and Apple, which is still sticking with H.264 (the non-Flash variety). Just when it looked like H.264 was winning too.