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H.264 Web video (sort of) free, Web-video future still unclear

Want to know what software we'll all use to watch video online? You'll have to stay tuned for a while longer, notwithstanding the news yesterday that the most widely used Adobe Flash replacement would be free to use.

That's because on the Web and elsewhere, "free" doesn't necessarily mean the same thing to everybody.

In this case, the industry licensing group that controls this "H.264" standard announced (PDF) that Web sites would never have to pay a royalty to use this format in videos that they don't charge users to watch.

That's good, since before, Web sites would have been charged to use H.264 in free videos after 2015. But that's bad, since they'll still have to pay to use it in any downloads or streams with a price tag -- and, more important, since software developers and hardware manufacturers will also continue to pay royalties to add H.264 playback to their own products.

Some companies -- notably Apple and Microsoft -- have decided they can live with those costs and have publicly endorsed H.264.

(Meanwhile, an earlier Microsoft venture into Web video, its Silverlight software, seems to be quietly dying.)

But Google has instead backed an open format, unencumbered by royalties or patents, called WebM. The developers of the Mozilla browser, who already declined to build in support for H.264, haven't changed their minds since yesterday's news.

Adobe, in turn, is adding WebM video playback to the Flash player -- which already handles H.264 video. So the most compatible replacement for the Flash player would seem to remain ... the Flash player.

How does this end? Please share your prediction in the comments -- what format wins, and when?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  August 27, 2010; 12:45 PM ET
Categories:  The Web , Video  
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Next: Patent lawsuit du jour: Paul Allen versus the world (but not Microsoft or Amazon)

Comments

We all lose until the patents expire since they say there are H.264 patents inside WebM.

Posted by: hesaid | August 27, 2010 1:28 PM | Report abuse

I'm putting all my money in Betamax. Oh wait, wrong format debate.

Posted by: thurminator | August 27, 2010 2:33 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: freighter | August 27, 2010 2:56 PM | Report abuse

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