It's a relief to be able to talk about the new WebM video format. Development of WebM support in Firefox has all happened in our Auckland office (with some last-minute build support from Nick down in Timaru, and some quick hacking by Justin Dolske to make the context menu useful on Youtube). It's been crazy and stressful, but it's also been really good because WebM is going to be great for the open Web. There are several major advances here for unencumbered video on the Web:
- Youtube. Youtube supporting WebM is psychologically massive. It also means we won't have to choose between our principles and being the only browser that needs plugins to play Youtube.
- Better video quality. There's a lot of noise from H.264 proponents about Dark Shikari's analysis of VP8, but even he agrees it's better than H.264 Baseline, which is pretty much all H.264 on the Web today (partly because that's all most current H.264 hardware supports). We also will also make ongoing improvements, perhaps by merging in some of the work done for Theora.
- Hardware support. Several companies have announced support for VP8 in their hardware.
- Flash. Support for WebM in Flash may actually be the most important thing for authors and for the success of unencumbered video. It means authors will be able to publish in one format, WebM, and it will work everywhere (except the iPhone/iPad I guess!). Not only is that great for authors, it will put great pressure on the holdouts to add native WebM support. Thanks Adobe!
And thanks Google. Spending $120M on On2 and then releasing their IP assets under a BSD license is hugely appreciated.
It's important to remember that as exciting as this is, it's only the beginning. We expect significant improvements to the VP8 encoder and decoder. For Gecko, we need to get our current patches into mozilla-central, we need to fix some bugs, and we need to add a few desperately needed features to our <video> element support, such as the buffered attribute, plus a generic fullscreen API.
By the way, there's an important lesson here for all the people who were counseling us to give up on unencumbered video as a lost cause and embrace the MPEG-LA. It's a mistake to give in to despair when you don't know the future (and the world being an unpredictable place, you very rarely know the future).