Google has been coping a fair amount of flak ever since it announced the withdrawal of H.264 support from its Chrome browser. Apparently, the internet giant was having nightmares about a closed, royalty-fettered future of web video before it decided to drop H.264 support in favor of the open source WebM format. However, the company couldn’t quite explain why it continues to support other closed-source technologies like Flash and Silverlight.
The internet giant posted a lengthy explanation on the Chromium Blog this past Friday, but did little to address the principal gripe about its decision to drop H.264 support. In fact, instead of explaining why it has different yardsticks for different closed technologies, it actually made it a point to emphasize support for Flash and Silverlight. It now sees a symbiosis between H.264 and the two plug-ins.
“H.264 plays an important role in video and the vast majority of the H.264 videos on the web today are viewed in plug-ins such as Flash and Silverlight. These plug-ins are and will continue to be supported in Chrome,” wrote Mike Jazayeri, a product manager at Google, in a blog post.
“Our announcement was only related to the <video> tag, which is part of the emerging HTML platform. While the HTML video platform offers great promise, few sites use it today and therefore few users will be immediately impacted by this change.”
It is now concentrating its efforts on popularizing the use of the open-source WebM format for HTML5 video. An uphill task to say the least. Nonetheless, the WebM Project team will soon release plugins to enable WebM support in Internet Explorer and Safari through the HTML standard <video> tag. This not only defies logic but belies the raison d’être of HTML5 video, which was conceived as a means of disencumbering web video from the clutches of special plugins. That said, all major stakeholders are equally culpable for the current state of fragmentation.
Another major hurdle in WebM’s path is the widespread hardware support that H.264 currently enjoys. The open-source format is unlikely to take off in an era of hardware-accelerated video without support from GPU vendors.