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

Maik Merten maikmerten at gmx.net
Tue Mar 27 04:26:57 PDT 2007

Dave Singer schrieb:
> On the question of whether a video or audio tag should mention the
> codecs:  we're really very supportive of the need for convergence and
> interoperability.  For example, I took a video iPod to an MPEG meeting a
> week or two after its intro, and at the meeting I got five companies,
> using their own H.264 and AAC and file format implementations, to build
> files that would play on it.  We've actively helped 3rd parties be
> compatible with the iPod and iTunes.  We really do believe in this stuff.

It's good to know that Apple considers interoperability as something

Of course in case of the iPod the highly proprietary DRM scheme is
preventing true interoperability if someone condiders DRM a must for his
business needs and Apple's credibility concerning true, termless
interoperability sadly is taking some damage there.

(Personally I think DRM is doing way to much "collateral" damage and
usually leads to a despicable content lock-in much to the dismay of
customers. But that's most likely not the right place for that kind of

What matters here in the context of web-video is Apple's commitment to
get <video> working on all platforms and all environments (either
proprietary or free software or whatever categories there may be).

> We also have been sometimes openly critical of licensing terms and
> problems around codecs;  we supported the attempt to get a a
> royalty-free baseline for H.264, for example.  We recognize the value of
> research and invention, but we also realize that to realize a value from
> a use of those inventions, the use has to happen and make business
> sense.  It's a balance...

Well, too bad there's no royality-free, termless licensing for a
baseline of H.264. The current terms (
http://www.mpegla.com/avc/AVC_TermsSummary.pdf ) absolutely question the
suitability of H.264 for free browsers (beer and speech). The licensing
costs can pile up to considerable amounts (hundred of thousands of
dollars) if you ship as many browser packages as e.g. Mozilla does.
That's most likely an unacceptable money bleed for a zero-revenue
product. And of course distributions shipping own versions of Mozilla
(it's free (speech) software after all) most likely aren't able to ever
fulfil the licensing terms (how are they supposed to track deployment -
provided they could pay the fees?).

And to make matters worse you of course need a MPEG audio codec, too,
which adds to the overal costs.

In case of physical hardware players that sell for amounts of money that
dwarf the licensing costs the licensing terms seem to be fair. The Web,
however, has other needs if we want to preserve it as free
infrastructure (apart from the traffic costs) - and thankfully the W3C
realized this.


"The license must not charge a fee or royalty;"

> We really feel that the HTML spec. should say no more about video and
> audio formats than it does about image formats (which is merely to give
> examples), and we should strive independently for audio/video
> convergence.  We'd really like to discuss the 'meat' of the proposal --
> the tags, the CSS, and so on!

The whole point of the spec is to make sure implementations are
compatible.  Just discussing the "meat" and ignoring how things work out
in practice may backfire.

HTML already embraces CSS, which is not part of HTML itself. I don't see
how slightly elevating and embracing a free audio/video format without
requiring support for it (and not disallowing other formats) can do any

Not caring for video formats at all in practice may only work if there's
already a de-facto standard in place that can be freely implemented by
basically all user agent vendors. It may be possible to "let the market
sort things out" - but that'd take time and lead to confusion... and of
course it may lead to a disastrous kind of "bad luck" for free browsers
if a non-free format happens to become a de-facto standard. All of this
can be avoided if the assembled user agent vendors negotiate on a
gentlemen-agreement that is in spirit of the free nature of the Web -
and I think it can't harm if this gentlemen-agreement makes it into the
spec as optional part.

Maik Merten

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