[whatwg] <video> element proposal

Maik Merten maikmerten at gmx.net
Sun Mar 4 06:08:45 PST 2007


I know I'm completely unknown to the list, but I've monitored progress
on free (speech) media formats for years (especially the xiph.org ones)
and I'm concerned that proprietary formats like Flash (well, in this
case Flash Video) are locking-in valuable content. Video has become
pretty common on all sort of web pages and web browsers really should
offer a non-proprietary way to handle this.

Even Gnash can't solve the problems that come with Flash Video.

Flash Video is a container format. It can contain video in H.263
(ancient and outdated) and VP6 (starting with Flash player 8 IIRC - it's
basically not used because Flash 7 is still in widespread use) format.
The audio part is handled with MP3. All those codecs come with license
fees. The VP6 video codec doesn't even have a public spec. None of these
codecs could ship e.g. with Linux distributions like Debian.

Now... what other formats are there.


- H.264: MPEG's latest video codec. Very nice technology, good
performer. One of the formats used with HD-DVD and BlueRay. There's a
patent pool you can license - but again, this involves money.

- VC1: Offspring of Windows Media. Roughly as good as H.264, one of the
formats available for HD-DVD and BlueRay. Patent pool licensing.

- MPEG4: This is most common in forms of DivX and XviD. Predecessor of
H.264. As usual there's patent pool licensing involved. This means that
albeit XviD is open sourced it's not really free due to patent licensing

- Theora: Offspring of VP3. Patented, but the FAQ states "the Xiph.org
Foundation has negotiated an irrevocable free license to the VP3 codec
for any purpose imaginable on behalf of the public". Theora extends the
spec of VP3 to increase compression efficiency, albeit the reference
encoder doesn't use the advanced features specified (yet). Current
compression performance is similar to old versions of DivX or XviD. This
means it's currently outperformed by basically all other mentioned
schemes mentioned above. However, it's usually outperforming Flash Video
using the ancient H.263 codec you see on the web today, so it's "good
enough" for many applications even as-is. No license fees, available on
"all" platforms. Only licensing danger I see: Submarine patents. This
applies to all other formats as well, e.g. recently Microsoft was hit by
an Alcatel-Lucent submarine patent for using the MP3 format and it had
trouble with its VC1 codec, too. Spec freely available.


- AAC: Used in e.g. iTunes. Successor of MP3. Good performer, many
different profiles for different applications. As usual: Patent pools.

- MP3: You know it, you use(d) it. Outperformed by vast margins by e.g.
AAC and Vorbis, especially at low bitrates interesting for
web-streaming. Patent pool licensing. Thanks to the submarine mentioned
above Microsoft was sentenced to pay 1.5 billion dollars. Ouch. Seems
patent pool licensing isn't giving the security promised.

- WMA: Proprietary. Outperformed by AAC and Vorbis. There's a "WMA Pro"
which is incompatible with WMA and isn't used very much. Many music
stores use the plain vanilla WMA wrapped in a DRM container.

- Vorbis: "Patent free" (well, with the usual threat of submarine
patents that applies to all formats). Good performer, available
"everywhere". Even Microsoft's game studio uses (used?) it for in-game
music (and many other companies). I have a MP3 player that understands
Vorbis, it's moderately wide-spread.  Spec freely available.

Okay, this is a rather lengthy list. So I'll hurry up and put my opinion
into a nutshell:

* Video support in browsers is important IMO. Otherwise the web may more
and more slip into dependency on Flash or similiar formats ("We have to
use Flash anyway for video, so why not make the whole site with Flash?").

* Browser makers should negotiate on one base format. This format should
be free and available on all platforms. I don't say formats that need
patent licensing are evil by-itself, but I'm pretty sure Debian and
Fedora would have to remove video support from their browsers if that
functionality would depend on a format that needs such licensing. To my
knowledge only Ogg Vorbis+Theora are performing well enough and are
usually accepted to be "safe" and open.

* I don't think the spec should require implementations to only support
one format. It should require at least one base format (see above) and
allow optional formats to keep track of codec development and to keep
political minds calm. I doubt Microsoft would ever implement a <video>
element if they weren't allowed to support their own formats as well (it
may be hard enough for them to support any base format not being theirs

Sorry for this long mail,

Maik Merten

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