When will HTML 5 support <video>? Sooner if you help

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Digital Frame

To make the distance to home when I travel a little shorter, for my birthday I got one of these digital picture frames. With a little fiddling, I got the picture and music features working, but I'm stumped on video. When I searched for support, I found I wasn't the only one:

I converted my file to various formats but unfortunately none of them would play on my frame.

Hindry 2007-07-31

When I picked up co-chairing the HTML Working group with Chris Wilson in March this year, little did I know how much video codecs would impact that part of my life too.

The scope of the HTML 5 draft is considerably larger than the scope of the HTML 4 Recommendation, and the Working Group is looking at the major differences in a couple ways:

Among those requirements issues is ISSUE-6, videoaudio. It has been discussed informally as far back as March/April (Opera, Apple and Microsoft, etc.) and it was added to the issue tracker during a discussion of media elements on the first day of our our November meeting in Cambridge.

A few minutes later, we added a design issue, ISSUE-7 video-codecs, regarding which codecs, should/must/may implementations of HTML 5 support. David Singer of Apple wrote an excellent summary on 9 November:

... interoperability at the markup level does not ensure interoperability for the user, unless there are commonly supported formats for the video and audio encodings, and the file format wrapper. For images there is no mandated format, but the widely deployed solutions (PNG, JPEG/JFIF, GIF) mean that interoperability is, in fact, achieved.


The problem is complicated by the IPR situation around audio and video coding, combined with the W3C patent policy. "W3C seeks to issue Recommendations that can be implemented on a Royalty-Free (RF) basis." Note that much of the rest of the policy may not apply (as it concerns the specifications developed at the W3C, not those that are normatively referenced). However, it's clear that at least RF-decode is needed.

So when Rudd-O's article says, "Nokia and Apple have privately pushed to give Ogg the noose treatment," that's just sensationalism. The truth is that Apple and Nokia are participating in an open discussion of the issue.

Many of us share the goal of an open, interoperable video codec for the web. But the state-of-the-art as of Nov 2007 is that there is no video codec that meets the community requirements. In that context, the 30 Nov message from Mikko Honkala of Nokia that said, "we support publication of HTML5 WD, including the canvas, audio, and video elements, but not the SHOULD clause for the baseline codec until proper patent assessment has been made" is not a "noose treatment"; it's just working group members trying to prevent the disappointment of authors coding to the spec and then finding out that it doesn't work.

The 11 December response from the editor, Ian Hickson, was to acknowledge the issue in the draft:

It would be helpful for interoperability if all browsers could support the same codecs. However, there are no known codecs that satisfy all the current players: we need a codec

  • that is known to not require per-unit or per-distributor licensing,
  • that is compatible with the open source development model,
  • that is of sufficient quality as to be usable, and
  • that is not an additional submarine patent risk for large companies.

This is an ongoing issue and this section will be updated once more information is available. Video and audio codecs for video elements the HTML 5 draft, formatted for emphasis/clarity

Worse than not acknowledging the openness of the discussion, Rudd-O continues, "This destroyed all hope of having free (as in freedom) media embedded in HTML5 in an interoperable way." To give up hope at this point is the most counter-productive thing to do.

The response to the W3C Video on the Web Workshop Call for Participation was an outpouring of resources to tackle this issue. The presentations were inspiring.

I was also inspired by Håkon's demo in the video panel in the W3C Technical Plenary; he took the wikipedia octopus article and replace the photo with a video. It was easy to think back to when I was in third grade and imagine how much more of an impact it would have on me; then I remembered I have a third-grader at home; see One laptop per Kyle for more of that story, including a little video production of my own.

Putting that video of Kyle together was pretty easy with current consumer technology: I shot it with a digital video camera that we bought years ago, edited it with Apple iMovie, and an online service took the iMovie output and converted it to whatever everybody is using these days. But as Eric Hyche of RealNetworks pointed out last week, somewhere in the process I had to execute some terms and conditions with that online service; it's my video; what business is it of theirs? When I take a picture and put it up on the Web, I can use flickr if I want their value-add services, but I can also just stick the JPG file on an HTTP server of my own; the corresponding option for video is beyond the reach of the typical Web user.

Though I'd rather somebody more qualified chaired the W3C standardization effort to choose between video codecs, I have been studying digital media enough to be confident I could produce Ogg/Theora or Dirac; but I'm not sure my audience can consume it. After the workshop discussions, I'm particularly sympathetic to comments such as this one about the rich network of support for H.264:

... pushing Ogg/Theora might make you proud to have voted, but it will only distract from the industry's coalition to unitedly back H.264 from mobile devices to HD. There's far more FOSS support for MPEG-4 and H.264 than for Ogg/Theora ... Having wide support behind one good, open portfolio of standards will make it easier for FOSS to compete with and participate in the desktop computing world.

DECS (891519) on Sunday December 09, @05:33PM

H.264 has a lot going for it; the two main issues I see are:

  1. the H.264 patent licensing situation
  2. competition with VC-1 in Windows Media

Microsoft didn't send anyone to the workshop last week, so I'll leave the second issue for another day.

I heard a lot of creative ideas about the patent licensing situation and support for free software, though. Everything from stop-gap measures involving binary blobs to using the full force of W3C to address the patent situation head-on as we did in the P3P and Eolas cases. If you want to join the W3C members who have expressed an interest to help, please contact me and Philippe Le Hégaret and Chris Lilley, preferably with a copy in a public archive.

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