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h.264 vs VP8: the politics of internet video

By it certainly is in Politics
Mon May 24, 2010 at 05:05:49 AM EST
Tags: H.264, VP8, WebM, Google, MPEG-LA, hoooooooorsecock (all tags)

There's a fight over video codecs brewing on the Internet.

First, the bad news; the most popular video codec specification in the world - h.264 - used all over the web, on blu-rays and in broadcast media, is patented up the wazoo. The patent licensing deal is a poisoned chalice. If you join, you agree include all their users in a shakedown scheme: If you start making money from your video, film, documentary, etc., and a device capable of decoding/encoding h.264 was involved, anywhere, then you have to give the h.264 people a slice.

So, how have the denizens of the web, defenders of freeness and openness, reacted?

HTML 5 is currently being worked on. It will have a <VIDEO> tag. It has to be free and open. There has to be a default codec. There are loud arguments about what it should be:
  • People who already license h.264 think h.264 should be the standard. It is, after all, technically very good.
  • Everyone else says it needs to be a codec with a royalty-free license, i.e. not h.264.
The good news is that Google bought the video codec company On2, and has open-sourced their VP8 codec, along with a container format. They've called this combination WebM and have an impressive list of companies that will stand behind it

The problem? A leading h.264 programmer has looked at the VP8 source code and thinks it does things very similarly to h.264 - so does it infringe on h.264 patents or not? Nobody knows - the programmer isn't a patent laywer. Looking similar doesn't mean it infringes any patents. Google says the did due diligence, but they won't indemnify people using it.

Is VP8 better than h.264? Probably not. However, it's good enough to match the h.264 baseline.

Is VP8 safe from patent threats? Technically, it may infringe. Politically, it may not be possible for the MPEG-LA to pursue infringement, given the amount of patents held by the WebM consortium. Mutually Assured Destruction. However the MPEG-LA are already gearing up for a fight.

It makes me uneasy, but I wish Google luck, and I hope we get an open codec for the web.


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What is the most likely outcome?
o HTML5 will remove the VIDEO tag 10%
o HTML5's VIDEO tag will be meaningless as there will be no default codec 40%
o Somehow, every person in the world will voluntarily give money to the MPEG-LA 40%
o The MPEG-LA backers will lose some of their patents in a fight 10%
o The WebM consortium will keep the MPEG-LA at bay with patent nukes 10%
o All major software companies will patent-litagate themselves to death 40%
o Software patents will finally be declared invalid 20%

Votes: 10
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o Google
o shakedown scheme
o WebM
o impressive list of companies that will stand behind it
o very similarly to h.264
o gearing up for a fight
o Also by it certainly is

Display: Sort:
h.264 vs VP8: the politics of internet video | 13 comments (13 topical, editorial, 0 hidden)
hello (1.05 / 20) (#1)
by mongles on Sat May 22, 2010 at 05:12:44 PM EST


google is an h.264 licensee (2.00 / 2) (#2)
by horny smurf on Sat May 22, 2010 at 05:13:18 PM EST

so they don't need to care if it infringes or not.

oh boy i hate computer crap so much (2.25 / 4) (#3)
by mongles on Sun May 23, 2010 at 12:16:21 AM EST

Left out a few key things, (3.00 / 3) (#4)
by xC0000005 on Sun May 23, 2010 at 12:50:21 AM EST

As noted in the far more technical analysis here, the protocol looks designed to be nearly h.264, but just miss the patent issue by not implementing a few of the major claims.

Voice of the Hive - Beekeeping and Bees for those who don't
This will end well (2.66 / 3) (#5)
by tdillo on Sun May 23, 2010 at 12:55:12 AM EST

Ogg vs MP3 / AAC
OpenDocument vs Office Open XML
Valid HTML vs Netscape / IE 'Extensions'

VHS vs Beta . . .

The stories and information posted here are artistic works of fiction and falsehood.
Only a fool would take anything posted here as fact.

will vp8 work on ipad/iphone? (none / 0) (#6)
by Lady 3Jane on Sun May 23, 2010 at 04:17:33 PM EST

if not, then no.

8====================================================================D ~~
8 Please enjoy a male chorus, All of us will become human rifles and bombs!
8 This is offensive. Fix your site Rusty you have to -- The Honorable Edwin Lister
8 Please enjoy a male chorus, All of us will become human rifles and bombs!
8====================================================================D ~~

Only fags watch internet video. (none / 1) (#7)
by Ruston Rustov on Sun May 23, 2010 at 05:53:04 PM EST

I had had incurable open sores all over my feet for sixteen years. The doctors were powerless to do anything about it. I told my psychiatrist that they were psychosomatic Stigmata - the Stigmata are the wounds Jesus suffered when he was nailed to the cross. Three days later all my sores were gone. -- Michael Crawford
Maybe tomorrow. -- Michael Crawford
As soon as she has her first period, fuck your daughter. -- localroger

thanks, Cato // (none / 0) (#10)
by king of fools on Mon May 24, 2010 at 11:15:05 AM EST


fade out again

[ Parent ]
patents (none / 1) (#8)
by Delirium on Sun May 23, 2010 at 06:43:50 PM EST

First, I think you linked the wrong entry on the x264 guy's blog; it should be this one that's linked under your "very similarly to h.264" text.

On the patent issue, Monty from Xiph doesn't think the x264 guy's analysis is particularly good, though.

Yes and yes. (none / 1) (#9)
by it certainly is on Mon May 24, 2010 at 05:22:05 AM EST

The URL lost a digit when I was manually converting it from QP-encoding; this was originally an email missive to my friends.

Secondly, Monty would say that, wouldn't he? It's in his interest. But likewise, the main coder of x264 would say that, wouldn't he? It's in his interest.

The opinions are to be expected from both actors, the facts are what make me nervous; it's quite difficult to navigate the video patent minefield, and there are vested interests on both sides. I think it'll be realpolitik that saves VP8, not technical cleverness.

kur0shin.org -- it certainly is

Godwin's law [...] is impossible to violate except with an infinitely long thread that doesn't mention nazis.
[ Parent ]

patent-free codec (3.00 / 2) (#11)
by dark ally on Tue May 25, 2010 at 04:16:48 PM EST

Note, some the following is based on x264dev's comments and not my own analysis.

IMHO, the only way to create a patent-free codec is to be as clean-room as possible.  No code reuse and documenting each development an enhancement and providing as much prior-art as possible.  Something like Dirac will therefore have a much better chance of being patent-free than anything which uses DCT.

However, even that may not protect the codec from being patent free.  And ignorance is no excuse when it comes to patents.  But wholesale cut & paste from h.264 (i.e. same or similar variable names) is just an invitation to being sued.

clean-room is for copyrights, not patents (none / 1) (#12)
by Hightc on Sun May 30, 2010 at 05:09:03 AM EST

No, clean-room techniques are useless against patents.  You're thinking of copyrights or trade secrets.

Copyright and patents are completely different things.  You can violate a patent even if you didn't know the patent existed.  On the other hand, it is possible, in principle, to take a piece of software that implements some patented algorithm and modify it so that it no longer is subject to the patent.  This may violate copyright of course, but that is a different part of the law to patents.

But ignorance of patents is to some extent a defence, in that if you are taken to court and they find that you were aware of a patent but you wilfully violated it, then you are subject to extra damages.

In this case, they apparently wrote the code specifically so that it works around the x264 patents.  This could work even if the resulting code looking superficially similar to an x264 implementation.

[ Parent ]

clean room patents (3.00 / 2) (#13)
by dark ally on Mon May 31, 2010 at 01:35:52 PM EST

Yes, I agree that ignorance is no protection against patents.

However, if a patented technique is developed in a clean room environment then there might be a better argument that the patented technique is "obvious", which will defeat the patent.

I'd also argue that developing something truly novel, instead of trying to tweak code to invalidate patents, has a better chance of not stumbling over the patented techniques.  Especially since many patents are enhancements or modifications to other patents.  Additionally, patent holders love to broaden the coverage of their patents.  So something which is almost, but not quite, the same as the patent today may very well be patented tomorrow.

Finally, I can't imagine a judge looking favorably on tweaking a published implementation of a patent to avoid the patent.  That sounds far too much like willful violation.  That's like Vanilla Ice claiming he didn't copy "Under Pressure" 'cause he doubled the last note of the riff.

[ Parent ]

h.264 vs VP8: the politics of internet video | 13 comments (13 topical, 0 editorial, 0 hidden)
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