H.264 Codec Debate Rolls On As Royalty Deadline Is Extended

By HTMLGoodies Staff

HTML5 and web video have been the center of attention lately, especially in regards to the standard's use of the H.264 video codec. Things got even murkier with the announcement that the codec will remain royalty free until late 2016.

The announcement comes after YouTube announced that they were using the H.264 video codec to support HTML5 video, followed by announcements from Vimeo and Apple that they will also be supporting the H.264 codec. The question that follows is what will happen if the codec is accepted and widely used in conjunction with HTML5, and then six years from now, MPEG-LA, the group who controls the licensing and royalties for H.264, decides they want royalty fees after all?

Get 'em hooked, then reel 'em in. That could be seen as the mantra from MPEG-LA, as they could easily charge anything they want for royalty fees after 2016, leaving developers, browser makers, websites and end users in the lurch with websites, applications and browsers that no longer work (or cost and arm and a leg going forward).

This announcement is another thorn in the side of those who support HTML5 over Flash, which is the debate of choice among many developers this month. Supporters of Flash would argue that Flash will still be Flash six years from now, but HTML5 could be a different animal by the time it is standardized and accepted, and the so-called royalty-free video codec it relies on could by that time be anything but free. Supporters of HTML5 could point to the Ogg Theora open source video codec, which has been adopted by other browser makers, as another reason to focus on that video codec over both Flash and the H.264 codec. But even sticking with Flash won't necessarily save you, as the Adobe H.264 page states that "commercial use of the Flash Player to decode H.264 video may require a separate license."

There is merit on both sides of the debate, which will be likely to continue for quite a long time. Before anyone comes to a conclusion, however, they need to realize that there is a lot at stake here, more than a single web standard or video codec, and that in the end, the future of the web itself is in jeopardy.

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