H.264's undeserved bad rep
Apologies for the long post...
I was involved in MPEG for a few years around the time that MPEG-4 was being standardised and I find it curious that it is sometimes portrayed as the "bad guy" these days. I'm no big fan of how MPEG LA (which, despite the name, is a separate entity to the ISO MPEG organisation that developed the spec) has handled the licensing of MPEG-4 but, that apart, let me say the following:
- MPEG-4 AVC / H.264 are two names for the same thing and that is significant. For the first time, the ITU (telecoms standards) and ISO (digital TV and multimedia standards) agreed to create a joint spec in this area. Previously, they had produced specs that were broadly similar (e.g. MPEG-1 and H.261) but not compatible. This was an acknowledgement of the convergence that we take for granted today but wasn't so obvious 10 or 15 years ago.
- We hoped that we were producing a standard that would be so good that it would kill off the proprietary codecs that were emerging at that time and making multimedia a nightmare for practioners (remember "Choose Quicktime, Real Player or Windows Media"? :-) During the MPEG-4 process, we regularly received letters from people claiming to have a better solution. They were all invited to come and present their technology to see if they could show a significant improvement over the combined effort of the MPEG "experts". None did.
- Perhaps the most strange thing for me is the notion that H.264 was the work of some exclusive and unholy alliance of the big companies. There were 3 or 4 MPEG meetings each year back then, each one attended by around 300 experts from 100+ companies, universities and research organisations. The role played by some specific companies is often overstated, in my opinion.
Coming from the technology side, I would love to see H.264 accepted as the HTML5 video codec and I just hope MPEG LA have the vision to allow that to happen.