[whatwg] Codecs (was Re: Apple Proposal for Timed Media Elements)

Christian F.K. Schaller christian at fluendo.com
Thu Mar 22 03:33:52 PDT 2007

Maciej Stachowiak wrote:

> We think it is a mistake to require Ogg support, even as a SHOULD- 
> level requirement, for several reasons.
> - As mentioned above, some devices may have a much harder time  
> implementing Ogg than other codecs. Although a SHOULD-level  
> requirement would excuse them, I'm not sure it's appropriate to have  
> it if it might be invoked often.

A fallback without a mandated 'minimum' codec is next to worthless. Standards 
with similar goals of interoperability, like DLNA, have ended up choosing some
mandated codecs (which are all 'older' codecs) and some optional higher quality codecs.
A standard which does not mandate any codecs in this area quickly becomes a joke as
you might easily end up having no two implementations actually be interoperable.

Regarding the specific issue of mobile devices this is a highly speculative argument.
There is nothing stopping Theora chips from being produced and since many
'hardware decoders' are actually programmable DSP's this is even less of an
real argument. 

Case in point: my Nokia N800 certainly does not play H264.  The Flash videos that it
can play are not played using hardware decoder support.  I don't know many
hardware players that actually play H264 - I'm guessing the iPod video is one of the
few, and that player does not support web browsing.

So, when given the choice between a set of codecs, all of which are not 100% supported
by portable players, I prefer the free codec gets chosen as a base line.  Tim Berners-Lee
did the same thing.  Imagine an internet built on Word documents instead of HTML ?

> - Although the Ogg codecs don't have known patents that aren't RF  
> licensed, it's not completely clear that none of the patents out  
> there on video/audio encoding apply. Often, parties holding a  
> submarine patent wait for a company with very deep pockets (like  
> Apple, or Microsoft, or Google) to infringe on the patent before they  
> sue. On the other hand, MPEG codecs have been implemented by many  
> large corporations already, and no patents have appeared besides the  
> ones that can be licensed from MPEG-LA for a fee. So, ironically, for  
> a large company that has no problem the patent fees, Ogg may carry  
> more patent risk than MPEG.

I think the recent Alcatel-Lucent case against Microsoft trainwrecked any illusion
of MPEG codecs being safe harbours if you have licensed it through the correct licensing body. 
So while mp3 is not licensed through MPEG LA is it part of the MPEG family of codecs. The chance of 
a H264 lawsuit popping up in the next 15 years is probably just as big as a Theora lawsuit.

We can go back and forth about risks here, but in the end its better to support the codecs
which were created with the aim of being patent free and in the case of theora have a patent grant
associated with it.

> - Placing requirements on format support would be unprecedented for  
> HTML specifications, which generally leave this up to the UA, with de  
> facto baseline support being decided by the market.

Its called learning from previous mistakes. The only reason the lack of 
mandatory image formats didn't become a problem back in the day was because Netscape
was able to set a de-facto standard in the form of gif and jpeg. And PNG does set a precedent for 
a web standards body standardizing media formats. 
> We are very sympathetic to the desire for interoperability, and we  
> would really like there to be a codec that every browser can feel  
> comfortable implementing. But we are not sure such a codec exists at  
> this time (except for really primitive things, if you want to count  
> animated GIF or APNG as video codecs).

I am sure that if everyone else starts supporting Theora and Vorbis then Apple will quickly 
start feeling comfortable, it's the way the market works.


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