Free HD Video Codec

Okay, this one is going to get a little propeller-headed; feel free to skip this technical entry and just come back on Monday.

In order to send video over the Internet, you need to package the digital data in packets. The more you can condense the data, the smaller the data stream required, and the better your performance will be. Just like with MP3 digital music, squeeze the data too hard and you can start to see and hear the difference. One exciting development was the creation of H.264 – used in MPEG4 video compression — which was able to cut the data stream size about in half compared with the MPEG2 encoding used by DVDs. This makes it much easier to send HDTV which requires so much more data than standard definition video such as DVDs.

There’s just one problem; the intellectual property used in H.264 is owned by a bunch of companies — including Apple and Microsoft — and they sell licenses for its use through an organization known as the MPEG-LA. Many developers don’t want to incur the extra expense and hassle, so they want to avoid using H.264 technology.

Now they have an alternative. Google has released the VP8 video codec as open source, through an open media project call WebM. The open source code is available with a royalty-free license. Google has added support for WebM to Chrome, and YouTube is using it as part of its plan for an HTML5 version. Both Microsoft and Adobe have also announced their support for the new codec. Mozilla and Opera were also part of the project, and will support the codec.

One interesting aspect of this technology is that it can be used to play video and audio content from a Web site without the need of a separate plug-in.

As the demand for video streamed from the Internet grows, a royalty-free codec may well speed development of new applications. And it should help keep the costs down for everyone.