[whatwg] on codecs in a 'video' tag.

Gervase Markham gerv at mozilla.org
Mon Apr 2 05:03:39 PDT 2007

Maciej Stachowiak wrote:
> Reasons Apple would like MPEG4 + H.264 + AAC to be the preferred codec 
> stack
> ----------
> - We already need to support these for video production and consumer 
> electronics (so no extra patent cost to us)

I don't understand this point. There's no extra patent cost in 
supporting Theora. (See below for submarine patents.)

> - Every extra codec we ship is incrementally more submarine patent risk 
> (which could cost us hundreds of millions or billions of dollars)

But this is not just true of video codecs. Is Apple planning to stop 
shipping new software and improvements in Mac OS X because some of it 
may be patented?

If you are concerned about submarine patents, I suggest that "not 
shipping stuff" is not a sustainable strategy to counter them.

> - They are technically superior to Ogg (seekable container format, 
> significantly better bitrate for video)
 > - They are competitive with likely next-generation proprietary video
 > formats

I'll let others comment on this. But I would note that JPEG2000 is 
technically superior to JPEG, but hasn't been widely implemented due to 
patent issues.

> - They are an open ISO standard (patents notwithstanding)
> - They are widely available in hardware implementations which we can use 
> in our Consumer Electronics devices
> - They have been chosen as a standard for 3G mobile devices, HD-DVD, 
> Blu-Ray, HDTV broadcast, etc

All of which ship in countable units, and (where applicable) don't run 
free software.

> Reasons Mozilla would like Ogg + Theora + Vorbis to be the preferred 
> codec stack
> ----------
> - All known patents are royalty-free, so no need to pay $5 million to 

The problem is not that it's $5 million, it's that the amount is unknown 
and unmeasurable. They have no "fixed fee above a certain number of 
units" licensing policy. And even if they did, a Mozilla license 
wouldn't cover other members of that community.

> - Implementation would clearly be freely redistributable by third 
> parties (the situation might be unclear if only Mozilla paid for a 
> patent license)
> - No demand for use fees for commercial distribution in this format.

Let me add other reasons why Mozilla (for whom, again, I am not 
speaking) might want to specify Theora/Dirac:

- They have a strong commitment to interoperability
- They appreciate that there are a wide variety of distribution models;
   for browsers, and do not want to choose technologies which work only
   for some of those;
- If they think a royalty-free patent policy for standards is a good
   idea in one place (the W3C) then they think it's a good idea

> We think your reasons are strong and worthy of respect. That is why we 
> are not trying to force our codec preference on you, but rather propose 
> to leave this issue open. We ask you to respect our reasons as well, 
> rather than trying to force us to go along with your codec preference.
> I think achieving broader interoperability will require us to find ways 
> around this impasse, rather than bludgeoning each other until one side 
> caves.

So, just to be clear: you believe interoperability is best promoted by 
having no codec specified in the spec?

> One possibility would be an open API for codec plugins that will work in 
> <video>/<audio>, then user availability of codecs is not directly tied 
> to browser choice and codecs can compete in the marketplace more freely. 

You and I both know that this would result in dominance for whatever 
codecs got shipped by default on major operating systems. Content 
producers will not choose codecs for 5 or 10% better quality or bitrate, 
they will choose them for user convenience - because if their site is 
harder to use than their competitors, they'll fail.

As codecs are binary components, the site wanting to use foo-codec would 
need to provide versions of it for every operating system they planned 
to support. For Linux, that would be rather complicated, to say the 
least. They might not even bother offering it for Mac, or Mac PPC. This 
would discriminate against operating systems with smaller market shares.

> Another possibility would be to get MPEG-LA to change licensing terms 
> somehow. 

I'm sure that any help Apple would be able to give in this area would be 
much appreciated. How do you suggest we begin?

> Yet another possibility is that one codec stack will become so 
> popular that all parties will feel compelled to implement it despite 
> their reasons against. 

You again assume that only recalcitrance prevents some parties 
implementing any particular codec stack. As I understand the situation, 
Firefox would have to stop being free software in order to ship an MPEG4 


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