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back to article Google open video codec faces second challenger

Google's royalty-free video codec is facing yet another challenger. The MPEG standards body – not to be confused with the MPEG LA patent-pool organization – has announced plans for its own royalty-free codec. At its annual meeting in March, the organization will begin accepting proposals for a new video-compression technology …

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Simple answer...

Why don't Google submit VP8 to MPEG for this new standard?

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Good idea

Any other idea would take years or is steeped in IP problems.

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Boffin

@Why don't Google submit VP8 to MPEG

> Why don't Google submit VP8 to MPEG for this new standard?

They probably will. However, the standardisation process is unlikely to adopt VP8 unchanged. From what I've heard, the VP8 documentation is not up to MPEG standards, and there are various bugs in VP8 for backward compatibility reasons. If MPEG decided to take VP8 as the basis for it's work, MPEG is likely to want to fix those bugs and probably make other changes/improvements to the standard. This would lead to a new, incompatible codec.

It's also worth pointing out that while the products containing this new codec might be royalty-free, you have to pay a significant amount of money to buy the PDF file describing an MPEG standard. (I.e. the standard is not available free of charge). This is because MPEG is part of ISO/IEC, and ISO makes money by selling standards documents, which it uses to cover it's running costs. For example, ISO/IEC 13818-2:2000, which is just the video part of MPEG-2, is 252 Swiss franks or about 162 British pounds. The audio and container formats have to be purchased separately. And it has a "single user, don't put this on a network share, you can only print it once" license.

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It is actually available for free

http://www.itu.int/rec/T-REC-H.222.0-200605-I

That is the ITU recommendation for H.222 - also known as MPEG-2/ISO/IEC 13818-1:2007.

All ITU recommendations are free to download courtesy of the EU. As are standards from ETSI.

Shame that our UK standards bodies and others like ISO/SMPTE/etc aren't more into the free (as in speech) distribution model.

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Anonymous Coward

Because MPEG don't want an efficient royalty-free codec

VP8 is mostly very simple workaround to patent on MPEG's H.264.

So why didn't MPEG just suggest those obvious workarounds while it had representatives of all the patent holders in the room? They could have just asked "What do you think of this minor modification, it achieves basically the same encoding efficiency? Of course if we do it this way then users of the codec don't have to pay you millions of dollars but you don't mind, do you?"

Apparently some of the smaller companies actually wanted, at least parts of , H.264 to be royalty free but got politically ambushed and strung along like idiots by much smarter operators in a geeky version of "The Thick Of It / In the Loop" but with more swearing.

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FAIL

Dammit, how is this helping innovation?

All I want to do is allow our clients to upload short video clips to their corporate websites so they can tell their employees/customers about widgets. Was hoping HTML5 would be the end of screwing around with ffmpeg, Flowplayer, Flash plugins, etc... looks like these patent trolls are going to set web video back 2-3 years while they try to leech some cash out of it. Parasites!

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Boffin

No such thing as "royalty free"... or so they'll claim

No matter what MPEG comes up with, there will still be people who claim they have patents on it. And those people will probably get MPEG LA to set up a patent pool for the MPEG "royalty-free codec", and start charging royalties. Exactly the same way that they are trying to charge royalties for WebM.

Their rationale is very simple (although "evil"). Suppose you're a patent holder who's in the MPEG4 patent pool. If a new codec comes along, of course you're going to try to claim your patents cover it. Either people don't adopt the new standard (and you get money from the MPEG4 patent pool) or people do adopt it and they pay you money. The third option, "someone actually pays the million dollars of lawyers fees to stand up to you in court", is extremely unlikely, and you can still cash in for years while the case winds its way through court.

The problems are granting bad patents, the cost of fighting a bad patent, and software patents. (Note that often these kinds of codec are implemented in silicon chips in graphics cards, phones, and set-top-boxes. This frees up the CPU to do more interesting things, or to power down and save battery, or to simply be a slower, cooler and cheaper CPU (respectively). So non-software patents are involved too).

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Silver badge
Flame

Rent seekers gonna seek rent.

The problem is not "bad patents". The problem is the existence of state-granted market-entry denial thingamabobs like "patents" in the first place.

In the best case, it's a tax that self-proclaimed inventors can pull in from companies that actually make the effort to go to market. In the worst, it's a writ to enable some cretin to keep others in the stone age.

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Codec Code Conceptual Confusion

"Note that often these kinds of codec are implemented in silicon chips in graphics cards, phones, and set-top-boxes. This frees up the CPU to do more interesting things, or to power down and save battery, or to simply be a slower, cooler and cheaper CPU (respectively). So non-software patents are involved too"

I might be over-interpreting things, but this aside appears to suggest that an algorithm burnt into firmware (or grid array etc.) is not software, and an otherwise general purpose computer is not a general purpose computer if it is following said algorithm burnt into firmware, or functionally equivalent silicon.

This is not a trivial point. Unfortunately it is *exactly* this kind of conceptual confusion that opened the door to software patents in the EPO, despite an explicit ban on software patents: The patent sophists argue that once a program is in a computer's memory ready to be executed it is no longer "software", as such, and that once a general purpose computer is running a specific program it is no longer a "mere" computer. On this confused account, supported by the EPO, what appears to be software can thus be patented as long as you describe it using the right form of words.

Consider exchanging "silicon chips" with "firmware + cpu". To agree that, for example, 'patenting a piece of silicon which implements a codec algorithm is not the same as patenting software' is to accept an instance of the argument that 'patenting (all) executions of (all) implementations of an algorithm is distinct from "patenting software" as such' (where the latter is banned by the EPO treaty, but the former allowed by EPO examiners).

I don't mean to pick on anyone, but those against software patents need to take care to avoid tacitly acceding to the very same arguments that are used to justify software patents.

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Bronze badge
FAIL

And we all have fiber-to-the-home

Advanced codecs exist because bandwidth savings pays the licensing. "Better performance than MPEG-2" isn't aiming very high, even when free.

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Re: And we all have fiber-to-the-home

Yep - I reckon this is divide and conquer.

They make an inferior but legally safe alternative so that the more nervous will abandon VP8, and release products that are seen to be inferior.

In the meantime, VP8 would have lost momentum - thanks to its market being cannibalised by defectors having been driven by FUD to use this crap - and no longer represent a viable option due to lack of support from the ecosystem, the current development towards VP8 H/W support dropped from silicon products by then, the proliferation of another file format making it more tricky to adopt another.

Oh, and you can bet this new format will be forward compatible with H/W H264 decoders, so migration to licensing H.264 will be the only realistic option.

Let's just hope they set the performance so low that nobody takes it seriously.

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Silver badge

be waiting a fair few years for this

You underestimate how long it takes to get a codec through the standardisation process. A codec they've not actually started build yet... VP8 has a few years before needing to worry about a new MPEG codec. Wont surprise me if VP9 beats them to market as well ;)

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Silver badge

While standards orgs do ordinarily take forever to produce new standards,

if all of the big money players in the room believe they face the inevitable prospect of rapidly losing market share, I expect they'll be able to move pretty darn quickly. I got to watch some of these battles a few years back when there were only 2 or 3 players in the room. It was always the sunk R&D costs of the competitors that drew things out. But they were arguing over markets they wanted to develop, not responding to an existing threat.

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Silver badge

@Simple answer - money

The MPEG standards body have no link to the MPEG-LA.

Just because everybody on the standards committee work for one of the MPEG-LA companies - that doesn't in any way imply any link or anything, no sirree, honest ....

They are the last people to want to muddy the waters by creating un-usable 'official' alternative to the Google codec.

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OSC

different challenge

The new proposal represents innovation fighting it out. Google's royalty free codec could form part of the new standard with everyone apart from MPEG LA winning.

The user wins with another lock-in barrier removed, and the tech companies benefit from Torvald's dictum about getting eight hours work for one hour's effort.

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Web momentum?

>> "But Google does have some momentum behind it."

That's only momentum towards a standard for the Web. Presumably, MPEG is interested in another standard that can be used across platforms, technologies, devices, and media; kind of like MPEG-2 and H.264 are standards applied to the entire work-flows of the film and television industries.

-dZ.

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VP8/WebM not under patent attack...

Until someone can come up with an actual example of infringement and get to court with it...

WebM/VP8 is not under any sort of attack. It has all been unsupported speculation so far...

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Silver badge

While what you say is legally true,

in the current environment a FUD attack must still be regarded as an attack. Granted it is a PR attack, and a good PR counter is to point out that they don't actually have a legitimate claim yet.

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Gold badge
Badgers

MPEG & MPEG LA

I've got an idea. Why don't MPEG push MPEG LA through the courts for using their IP; trading on their name, etc...

Then MPEG don't have to keep telling people that MPEG LA is nothing to do with them. And MPEG LA will not have to tell people that actually they are not MPEG.

Oh look, a flying pig!

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WTF?

The difference between VP8/WebM and H.264/MPEG LA is greed and ...

money.

Mr. 30% in Cupertino has all the characteristics of a Mafia skimming operation and his avarice seems to have no limits whereas MS just needs the cash to maintain itself. Jobs denying access to newspapers, except through his commission collection scheme, is typical Jobs.

Google has certain strengths, which are acknowledged by the H264 crowd inasmuch as the client is available free, including the ever popular YouTube. With Mozilaa, et al, getting behind VP8/WebM it stands a reasonable chance of making it big time.

The users can make their positions known, too, by making a choice and refusing to look at anything that doesn't conform to their choice.

Apple has learned, through the actions of Adobe, that it doesn't rule the roost, a position that will become more evident as it's market share falls resulting from the onslaught of Google.

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Silver badge

Any thoughts on the other 27 patent holders in MPEG LA?

I guess at least Samsung are okay by you, being Android licensees. But what about those innovation sucking whores at Columbia University?

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nonsense

do some research then comment

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Happy

¿ Why should we stand for ?

Why people stop supporting H264 and start re-codec each single video to VP8 ???

Im tired to see people still supporting mp3 instead of ogg.

@Developers: Enforce in each apps to use VP8, OGG, Speex codec, etc.. Dont wast time developing for corpocrime companies like Apple, M$, etc...

The problem is not behind the Tabaco Cartel (if you are smoker), is in front of your MIRROR, the developer, WHO SUPPORT each every day developing APPS to these plataforms.

Stop using h264, use Vp8,

Stop using mp3, use ogg

Stop using G.729,PCMU, PCMA,iLBC,etc, use SPEEX

Stop using .NET, ASP,etc, use instead PHP

Stop using M$Sql, use MySQL.

and so on.

The enemy is far more near, maybe is inside each innocent developer.

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Gold badge
FAIL

Yeah, right.

Why do people use MP3? Because every shonky playback device supports it, unlike OGG. You need to wait 'til every PMP and Car stereo in use has OGG support for that, I reckon about twenty years' time, if you start mandating the device support now.

Why do people use h.264? The same and also you are waaaaaay more likely to get HW acceleration.

SPEEX? WTF? You won't be wanting to actually talk to anyone else I take it? You *really* should have used the "joke" icon here.....

.NET Come back when you've convinced the corporate world. Good luck with that one.

MySQL? What? Ditch M$ for Oracle? Better the Gorilla you know there methinks (please try to keep up with the rest of us)....

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Pint

Because there is life beyond the web.

>>Why people stop supporting H264 and start re-codec each single video to VP8 ???

H.264 is a studio production standard.

H.264 is a broadcast, cable and sattelite distribution standard. Freeview in the UK. DISH Network and DirecTV in the states.

H.264 is a home video standard. It is the HDTV set. The Blu-Ray player. The pocket HD camcorder.

H.264 is a CCTV standard.

Medical. Military. Industrial and security applications. Video conferencing, Google Shopping returns 33,000 hits for "H.264 security camera."

>>Dont wast time developing for corpocrime companies like Apple, M$, etc...

The developer needs funding and a market for his work - even in "open source." Google and the Moz Foundation are sustained by AdSense.

They need a presence on the OSX and Windows platforms. Mobile browsing is perhaps 3%-5% of the total:

http://gs.statcounter.com/#mobile_vs_desktop-ww-monthly-201001-201101-bar

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MPEG 1 is just about 20 years old

MPEG 1 was completed by the end of 1991, so it must predate any patents that are still active.

True, it didn't have coding for interlaced fields, but interlaced fields should be as obsolete as the scanning electron tubes that employed them by now.

Nor does it achiever the compression ratios of the later algorithms. However, the costs of storage and transmission are dropping rapidly, and the simple decoding of MPEG 1 should be good for low power devices that can achieve long battery life.

Processing power is a steeply rising fuction of compression ratio. You can spend 10 years to standardize new algorithms that use 10 times the processing power to bring down the bit rate by 50%, or you can wait 3 years for the transmission and storage guys to bring down the price by 50%.

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Anonymous Coward

The HTML5 guys already considered this

When discussing a potential royalty-free codec there were various proposals like this. Either using MPEG1 as-is (which as you note is effectively the same as MPEG2 which was used for early Blu-Rays) or using MPEG1 with some additions based on unarguably patent-free improvements.

Unfortunately, it's basically unworkable, a fair bit below the encoding and decoding efficiency of Ogg Theora which any fully paid up Apple troll will tell you is so bad it makes your eyes bleed to watch even the shortest clip of a cat playing piano captured with a cheap cellphone.

There's a complicated calculus of how much patent FUD you can put up with versus how modern your codec is. Google backing allows WebM to be much more modern while standing up to more FUD, it's probably a peak for optimising the two factors against each other.

MPEG involvement really helps against FUD, but mostly by being overly conservative with quality so it's only an improvement on one axis.

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Thumb Down

You may communicate using only our brand of pencil

We don't care if one pencil is more or less as good as another, or if our superficially unique pencil features are pragmatically worthless in the daily course of your affairs. You -must- use our pencil when you wish to communicate. Failing entirely robbing you of the ability to inexpensively communicate with something that in the natural course of affairs would be a commodity with zero replication costs, we will make sure that every attempt at using a pencil becomes an enormous hassle for you, sapping your time and energy and offering you unending aggravation. Perversely, we will insist that this is happening not only because it helps you, but we'll even insist that you -demanded- we degrade you in this fashion.

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Waiting doesn't solve every interesting application

"You can spend 10 years to standardize new algorithms that use 10 times the processing power to bring down the bit rate by 50%, or you can wait 3 years for the transmission and storage guys to bring down the price by 50%."

But price isn't the only thing we're trying to get to lower. Power consumption springs to mind. No one wants a phone in three years time with "10 times the processing power" and five times the battery consumption.

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Unhappy

Low cost device is the key

Try to find a low end portable media player that supports Ogg. Now see the problem? Ogg is better, but you cannot find a low end device that would support it. Cheap devices are the most wide spread.

H.264 is widely supported, so unless others are catching up, H.264 is the developers' choice.

I'd love to see "free" codec be used instead of closed codec. However, there is a long way to go.

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vp8

is not way to go, there's a lot of material on the net for reading, check FOSS for example. I'd rather see something from MPEG than from Google.

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Happy

@ D. M

Plenty of low end portable players support Ogg, from suppliers you may have head of: SanDisk, Cowon, Trekstor, HTC, Archos, Grundig, iRiver, Philips, Samsung. See: http://wiki.xiph.org/index.php/PortablePlayers.

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