Google Dropping Support for H.264 in Chrome

Mike Jazayeri, Chrome product manager:

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 <video> 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.

A bold move, to be sure. H.264 is widely used. WebM and Theora aren’t. Perhaps this move will push more publishers toward serving video encoded with WebM. The big problem WebM has versus H.264 is that there are hardware decoders for H.264. This is key for mobile devices. It’s the hardware video decoding that allows mobile devices to get such long battery life and smooth performance for video playback. There’s no way publishers can drop H.264. To support Chrome, they’d have to add WebM-encoded versions of each video.

My bet is that this is just going to push publishers toward forcing Chrome users to use Flash for video playback — and that the video that gets sent to Flash Player will be encoded as H.264. Google can fix this for YouTube on its own, and admittedly, that covers an awful lot of web video. But I think everywhere else, H.264 will continue to dominate, and instead of getting native playback, Chrome users will get playback through Flash. This should be great for Chrome OS laptop battery life.

Update: Here’s a thought. If Google is dropping support for H.264 because their “goal is to enable open innovation”, why don’t they also drop support for closed plugins like Flash Player? As it stands now, Chrome not only supports Flash, it ships with its own embedded copy of Flash. I don’t see how Google keeps Flash but drops H.264 in the name of “openness” without being seen as utter hypocrites.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011