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back to article H.264 video codec stays royalty-free for HTML5 testers

Freetards stand down - MPEG LA has decided to slash royalties to zero for anyone wishing to use the H.264 codec for free streaming of internet video until the end of 2016. The MPEG licensing outfit confirmed earlier this week that its AVC patent portfolio licence won’t charge royalties for internet video that is free to end …

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Roll up, roll up

The first hit is free...

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Subsequently I assume the patents expire, when?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H.264/MPEG-4_AVC says "The final drafting work on the first version of the standard was completed in May 2003. [...] The last US MPEG LA patents for H.264 will not expire until 2028." Hmm?

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Flame

Sounds familiar

This Spake Tom Lehrer:

When the shades of night are falling,

Comes a fellow ev'ryone knows,

It's the old dope peddler,

Spreading joy wherever he goes.

Ev'ry evening you will find him,

Around our neighborhood.

It's the old dope peddler

Doing well by doing good.

He gives the kids free samples,

Because he knows full well

That today's young innocent faces

Will be tomorrow's clientele.

Here's a cure for all your troubles,

Here's an end to all distress.

It's the old dope peddler

With his powdered ha-happiness.

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Alert

Opera

Opera is also HTML5 Video for Theora OGG only, no H264 there either. (although ther Linux builds use GStreamer, which DOES provide H264, it's not endorsed. Opera are also clearly pushing OGG/Theora.

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Looks Like John Lilly has it right to me

I live in Mac/iPod Touch Land, with Safari as my primary browser, so I am of course delighted with the new HTML 5 sites using H.264, I'm signed up for the YouTube beta and everything.

But that's not to say that I don't see the internal logic in the Firefox position and I don't blame them for being very sceptical of the move.

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Coat

"with Safari as my primary browser"

Wow, you're the Safari user- an honour to meet you. We were sure you were an extinct species..

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When has John Lilly been right about anything?

I mean all that stuff about dolphins and extra-dimensional telepathic intelligence... really?

The sensory deprivation tank does sound kind of "interesting". Wouldn't try it with ketamine, though.

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Pint

Safari

No, we just don't go around blabbing about what browser we use or bitch and rail like a mad idiot about other OSs.

tfn

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Anonymous Coward

Building ties that bind...

"5 more years of free to lock you in forever"

Agreed. This is akin to a drug dealer giving you free samples. Don't take the bait.

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Does seem weird...

I suppose I will be only one of many people who will say this, but anyone taking the drug dealer's offer of a free first few hits is a bit stupid, perhaps?

"Don't worry, there's no fees until 2016."

"And then what?"

"Well, that's a long way away. Don't you worry about it."

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DJV
Grenade

Almost like GIF

Except we (and Mozilla, obviously) can see the trouble ahead.

Grenade, because H.264 is like one just waiting to go off.

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Thumb Down

Not good enough

It's no use them saying "oh we'll let you use it for free for 5 years" when at any point in those 5 years they can change their mind. And what happens at the end of the 5 years? Mozilla et al has to suddenly pony up?

Ditch the patent system. It doesn't work and causes problems for the rest of the world.

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Stop

Free to encode and decode?

I don't think you're free to encode and decode h.264 for any use, including video streamed via the web. Adobe, Google or Apple are paying on the recieving side (as long as your use is personal and non-commercial) and you're paying on the encoding side via the hardware or software you've bought to do so. If you're using open source code, as Youtube does I believe, then you'd need to have got a licence separately.

The only charge you are avoiding for the next five years is paying for the privilege of putting a video on your website.

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Alert

It's the licence - innit?

The problem with MPEG-LA's stance is that licenced (not open-source) codecs are still required. Since Mozilla will support only open-source codecs, it can't support H.264 via HTML5 video tags.

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Anonymous Coward

Title

"on a royalty-free basis as long as the video being streamed doesn’t reel in any cash for the user."

How does this apply to sites that cover every available inch of space with ads? They are largely economically free to the viewer, except in cases where the viewer actually buys a product, but the content provider still makes money from the videos.

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Paris Hilton

Free samples on the web, pay for devices

Yes, the first hit is free, after that you gotta buy if you wanna fly.

Anyway, this would seem like a perfect opportunity for MPEG LA. Let desktop/laptop/netbook browsers have it free, or just Crazy Carl's Couch Emporium and Deli cheap, and charge standard for devices. Let the gazillion iPod, iPhone, 'Droid, and others subsidize the browser market.

Now, I am not going to figure out how to unravel fuzzy areas in this. It is, after all, just an idea. Although another idea would be to not permit browsers for phones (like Bolt, OperaMini, Fennec) not directly support H.264, but rely upon the underlying media capabilities to decode the stream.

Paris, some fuzzy areas, some not.

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Browser for phone cannot do it anyway

The browser for a phone cannot do it in software anyway because of resource constraints. It has to use hardware acceleration in order to produce anything close to a decent frame rate/resolution. That is already licensed by the chip manufacturer using a separate deal.

Similarly, intel, nvidia and ATI all are licensees and nearly all of their hardware from the last 5 years supports MPEG2, a lot supports MPEG4 and some of the most recent supports H.264. So the browser developers actually do not need to support MPEG4/H.264 in the browser in the long term. They can offload that to the video card. It will not work on a lot of hardware today, but it is likely to work on 50%+ of the market in 2-3 years.

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can't

some enterprising soul just make a ff plugin, one not officially endorsed? mind, guess i could use chrome / ie when viewing video, it's just a pain - but choice, it's a wonderful thing...

I do support Mozilla, though.

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Why not Ogg Theora then?

Surely this should now be a no-brainer.

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FAIL

The title is required, and must contain letters and/or digits.

by the time microsoft gets around to supporting the html5 standard, it'll probably be 2016 already, and they'll decide that WMV is the best thing to use for video.

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Re: Why not Ogg then?

As I understand it, the problems with Ogg Theora are:

- compression/quality isn't anywhere near as good as H264

- no hardware decoding support, whereas there's lots of hardware for H.264 which means you can easily decode it on a smart phone etc.

- there's no guarantee that Ogg Theora doesn't inadvertently infringe some patents and could be subject to a claim in future

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Boffin

Re: Why not Ogg then?

"- compression/quality isn't anywhere near as good as H264"

Old information. The encoder has been improved a lot and now it is close. See http://people.xiph.org/~greg/video/ytcompare/comparison.html or http://hacks.mozilla.org/2009/06/update-on-open-video-quality/

"- no hardware decoding support, whereas there's lots of hardware for H.264 which means you can easily decode it on a smart phone etc."

True but well-coded implementations can decode it fast enough in software on modern processors. Also, if Theora becomes common, hardware companies will start supporting it.

"- there's no guarantee that Ogg Theora doesn't inadvertently infringe some patents and could be subject to a claim in future"

THIS IS FUD, plain and simple, propagated by some corporations with a vested interest in seeing Theora and other genuinely open codec alternatives fail. Any other codec could also be ambushed by a submarine patent holder, nobody can say for sure that MPEG-LA is the only tollbooth you have to pay at... . Besides, Theora is based on old well-established techniques, much the same as MPEG-1 video (which is already off-patent) + patents _donated_ to Theora by On2.

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Guarantees

#1 compression/quality isn't anywhere near as good as H264.

From Theora.org "Theora scales from postage stamp to HD resolution, and is considered particularly competitive at low bitrates. It is in the same class as MPEG-4/DiVX, and like the Vorbis audio codec it has lots of room for improvement as encoder technology develops."

Hmmm. HD resolution AND royalty free.... I'll take it. Room for improvement.. so it can get better than it is... all good.

#2 no hardware decoding support.

With dual (or more) core 3 GHZ 64 bit CPUs we can (and do) push bits around more than fast enough to decode HD video in software. Heck we can probably decode them in software running on a virtual machine that is itself software running on an O/S (also software) running on... well you get the picture. Suffice it to say that hardware decoding no longer brings the benefit to the table that it once did.

#3 there's no guarantee that Ogg/Theora doesn't inadvertently infringe some patents and could be subject to a claim in future

No one can guarantee that their creation does not inadvertently infringe on some patent somewhere, even if you had the resources to try to search through the patents the fog-index on the legalese is so high that is is practically unreadable and is subject to interpretation. Deliberately infringing is a different matter.

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Unhappy

The FUD can be enough.

I believe, as a company, If you buy a licence in good faith then the company you bought it from is liable should the product infringe a patent.

If you use a free codec with no agreement and there is a recognised chance there might be a patent infringement (the FUD can be enough) then you have to accrue for the possibility of such a liability in your accounts (or insure against it). You can get sued by the stockholders and fined by the financial authorities if you knowingly suppressed information about a potential liability.

Either way in terms of your accounts that free codec is not entirely free.

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Just Do It

Mozilla/Opera can add the codecs now, and if the patent becomes chargeable later, remove them - MPEG LA then become responsible for making almost all internet video inaccessible. I can't see that they'd be willing do that.

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Stop

Missing the point

Lets fast-forward 5 years: H.264 has become the defacto standard for delivering video on the web and 90% of websites now have their videos encoded as h.264. MPEG LA now say "Times up!" and start charging everyone who delivers h.264 encoded video pretty much whatever they feel like. So Mozilla then stick to their guns, remove support for h.264 and in one swift move FireFox becomes THE browser that doesn't do web video.

I dare say that the "average*" internet user cares not one jot about codecs, licencing fees or even who the hell MPEG LA are. They will just see FireFox no longer working properly and in a disposable, throw-away society, such as we have become, people will simply "throw away" FireFox and get a "new" one*.

* Or persistently bug the shit out of me to sort out their browser because its "not working properly". And I'm sure neither I, nor Mozilla, want that!! ;-)

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hear hear

They could add the abilities to use H.264 now and in 6 years when we've all moved to some other (free) standard, they just quietly remove them again.

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Nobody here seems to get it

Mozilla doesn't need to do H264, a plugin will. All Mozilla needs do is provide a way for a plugin to register its interest in a certain kind of content type and instantiate it in response to receiving a video tag that supplies that kind of content. A video tag is just a glorified object tag nothing more.

Mozilla could and should promote ogg as a mandatory format in HTML 5, but it shouldn't prevent other media types. It makes no sense at all when most devices and players will never support Ogg. Especially when most users are already entitled to play H264 content either because no licence fee is applicable in their country or their OS has already paid for the licence.

I'd add that it is ever so slightly bizarre and hypocritical for Mozilla to stick to its guns on this issue when it bends over backwards to help users install proprietary plugins for content such as SWF & PDF. At least be consistent and ban all proprietary formats, or be pragmatic and stop trying to dictate what users should or should not use their browser for.

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Paris Hilton

Free?

I don't quite see how YouTube can claim to only use it for free streaming - surely they DO make money from their content, by placing ads?

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FAIL

Still free

Yes, the current YouTube beta has no ads. If the video as ads it reverts to flash... They are still considering the legal sides, obviously.

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IT Angle

Plugin

But is there a plugin for Firefox that allows H.264 use?

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Flame

Plugin

Actually, many. One of those is QuickTime, and I use YouTube Perfect script with Greasemonkey, which use a well established way to play non-html content: using the EMBED tag.

For a free version, check VLC plugin. AFAIK mplayer has one too.

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Yes

Several - Flash, Silverlight spring to mind, and in the open source world you have VideoLan.

A video plugin that is instantiated for video tags could easily be implemented in Mozilla. It could be a specialized kind of plugin, one that implements certain scripting interfaces but otherwise uses the tried and tested NPAPI plugin architecture.

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Thumb Down

Wrong in two ways

First, the web succeeded due to free and open technology, and so on principle and from past experience, for HTML-5 to succeed it should be free and open - no patent restrictions.

Second, if they do want H.264 to be enabled in the standard, they should have waived royalties for end user decoding for *all time*, and then its up to web server operators to decide if they choose H.264 encoding and pay royalties later, or go down another patent-free / royalty-free route.

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Grenade

This is no concession...

Notice the "not-for-profit"caveats. This means that privately produced YouTube videos are fine, but you can't use it for fee-based video services (think Sky AnytimePC, or even under some circumstances, BBC iPlayer or 4OD), and you certainly would not be able to use it for promotional material from commercial organisations.

This makes it unsuitable for a universal codec,

Sounds like a minor concession to line up future license fee revenue streams to me!

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Self abuse by Mozilla

Mozilla's stance is insane. If they don't want to implement H264 then throw the APIs open so other people can. It would be relatively straightforward to define a video plugin as an NPAPI that implements an nsIVideoPlayer interface and fires events via nsIVideoPlayerCallback. Then the browser goes looking for the right plugin when it encounters content it doesn't handle itself.

Simple and easy.

The world and its dog wants to standardize around H264. Most of the world doesn't even need to licence any software, either because software patents don't apply, or their OS already includes an H264 licence.

Doggedly sticking to their guns is going to get them nowhere. In fact its a cutting off the nose to spite the face kind of situation. Firefox is already under pressure from Google Chrome amongst others, and the more incalcitrant they are, the less relevant the browser will be over time. By all means ship with just Ogg, but get a clue and open up the browser to other codecs.

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how wrong are you?

There are 3 components to h264 licensing... encoding, decoding and distribution.

Encoding and decoding licenses are not free and will remain that way. MPEG-LA is only making the distribution of h264 content on the web free for the next 5 years, because what they really want is to charge you for hosting h264 content as well (like they do in the broadcast world, where a license is required for each component in the value chain; encode, distribute, decode).

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How wrong am I about what?

Licensing is irrelevant to this issue. Mozilla doesn't have to implement H264, it just has to provide hooks so other people can. It can still promote Ogg to its hearts content, but denying other codecs is flat out stupid.

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Gold badge

Stand down? Why?

Stand down? Why?

This doesn't START until Jan 1, 2011. And it lasts 5 years. Do you intend to be using a web browser still 5 years from now? I know I do. To be frank, patent owners can piss off, I already have my libdvdcss, the "ugly" ffmpeg codecs installed, etc., and will just install a plugin, or a firefox build, with ffmpeg support (and so H.264 support) anyway. But putting this problem off a few years really does solve nothing at all for people who DO want to respect patents.

There's certainly a possibility that Google, mozilla foundation, etc., can do something about this. There is precedent -- after Unisys started enforcing GIF format patents, "freetards" protested against GIFs, and it worked. The amount of GIFs *greatly* reduced, and the PNG format was created then *specifically* as a GIF replacement. If they play their cards right, perhaps the On2 codecs will be used as a H.264 replacement -- with Google owning Youtube they can certainly make a big move towards it.

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Grenade

Haha hippies, where's your OSS now?

I love it! Get a job you freetards! I hope HTML 5.0 video has license fees so free browsers go bankrupt. Too long has open source put programmers like me out of jobs!

If you want better quality video, you should damn well pay the people that worked hard and spent time and money developing it!

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OSS

Open source has put plenty of people IN jobs as well.

...by your logic, you should be paying El Reg - they've spent a lot of time developing and writing it!

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Wow, make way for the ego!

You're blaming OSS for you lack of a job? Strange...I and everyone I know uses OSS at some point in their job. OSS is, by and large, the "Lego"(tm) bricks...you still have to know how to put them together (and there lies the money, fella-me-lad; just ask Red Hat).

I suggest you look inwardly and conquer your own ego. Contsantly blaming an external entity you cannot control won't get you anywhere. It's a bit like blaming a hill for getting one out of breath, rather than accepting that one is simply unfit.

And working on OSS is still seen as "experience", you don't necessarily need experience in the language or tech - even testing or proof-reading the docs is good. It's better than doing nothing and shows more gumption that just sitting about getting fat. Guess what "skill" an employer likes most?...yup, getting off yer arse and doing something.

If you can do that, everything else is just reading.

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Anonymous Coward

Why pay...

Why do we even use codecs that are royalty based anyway?

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Grenade

Bait & Switch

This is a classic bait & switch approach...

The MPEG-LA were hoping people would be suitably locked in by now, but with html5 they have the opportunity to lock in many more people. If they start demanding money now then it will drive the move to theora or other open codecs... If they delay until 2016 a lot of people won't even think about the potential problems, and get themselves locked in.

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Flame

Mozilla Is missing the big picture

Which is that like it or not the world is moving to H264, day by day more flash content is being translated, no one that matters is announcing any Ogg Theora content.

IE users aren't going to switch to a browser that 'won't play' video on ideological grounds, they're just going to stick with IE or download chrome instead. Stop worrying about what's going to happen in five years time and concentrate on making sure you don't become a rounding error in the interval.

If FF is dominant in 5 years time, and it could be, then they'll have a lot more sway for dealing with any licensing situation, threatening to disconnect billions of users from video sites makes for really bad, really public PR.

You've got five years, make them count.

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Bigger Picture?

Mozilla will always be able to play H264 content just not natively. It will need a plugin. H264 cannot be compiled into Firefox as it is not open source. It remains a secret. If someone buys the rights they could do what they want with it. Include some kind of DRM or user tracking, Pull it entirely so no one gets to play or insist that every video must have 45 minutes of advertising at the start. Maybe some mean and underhand trick that uses technology not even thought of yet. That is what tie-in is about: Gaining undue influence. It is inherently a bad thing for the 'Free' market and for the consumer.

Even without dirty tricks when the 5 years are up (or earlier if they change their mind). We will pay for playing that content either directly through ISP charges or indirectly through even more intrusive advertising. Worse, once something is encoded it cannot be decoded without cost. Five years worth of video will be locked in even if the world decides H264 is old hat and a new codec tacks over.

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VP6

There is a great solution to this - if Google *do* buy ON2 and open up VP6 (which is already widely supported by just about every Adobe Flash player in the webisphere), then we have a codec which is on an approximate par with H.264 for quality/bitrate and open. I love VP6 enough to have bought an encoding license, and if it gets opened up to everyone, that would be a good, a very good thing.

I'm glad Theora exists, and it's great, but the compression from VP6 is to my eye better bang per kilobyte.

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I think everyone's forgotten

Firefox *can't* ship with H264 if it wants to remain an open source effort

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It doesn't have to

People don't get it. It DOESN'T HAVE TO. Firefox already supports plugins and video is just a specialised plugin. Other people will supply the plugins. Treat the video tag like a specialised object tag and it can hook into the existing plugin API.

The stance Firefox is taking is completely stupid. They could easily support Ogg out of the box and push for it to be a mandatory part of HTML 5 while not shutting the door on other codecs that the user chooses to use. Doing what they are doing will just hurt Mozilla, nobody else.

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