IE9 and the HTML5 Video Debate

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IE9 and the HTML5 Video Debate

· Web Dev Zone ·
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Last month at MIX 10, Microsoft unveiled Internet Explorer 9, the first Microsoft browser to comply with many of the modern web standards like HTML5, CSS3, and SVG.  Reports were mainly focused on the fact that IE was finally catching up to the latest web development standards, but very few noticed that IE9 had chosen to only support H.264 encoding for HTML5 video.  Today, when Dean Hachamovitch (GM of IE) blogged about Microsoft's choice, people noticed.  

Once again, the debate over the standard video and audio codecs for HTML5 is raging.  The two codecs outlined in the HTML5 video standard are H.264, which is patent encumbered, and Ogg Theora, which is probably not (but considered by many to be technically inferior).  Opera and Firefox support the Ogg codec, IE9 will support H.264 only, and Chrome and Safari support both (but both support H.264 as the HTML5 standard encoding).  Until 2016 web masters can use non-commercial H.264-encoded videos ("free Internet video" was the language that MPEG LA used) on their website without paying licensing fees.  However, anything commercial (if there are ads on the website that might constitute commercial) is not free.  This fact seems to violate the open web philosophy for many developers.

Hachamovitch calls HTML5 "the future of the web."  His language is similar to the open letter from Steve Jobs yesterday in which Jobs paints HTML5 and H.264 as pure and open while Flash is labelled "100% proprietary."  Although Hachamovitch says that MPEG LA has a "well-defined program" for patent licensing, H.264 is not open.  Another misleading statement comes from Hachamovitch's post when he says, "developers can rely on the H.264 codec and hardware acceleration support of the underlying operating system, like Windows 7, without paying any additional royalty."  Readers might mistakenly assume that H.264 is free to use however they want thanks to Microsoft picking up the patent tab, but he's not referring to commercial usage.  Here is the Windows H.264 licensing notification

The fact is that if IE9 gains a huge user-base like its predecessors, web developers and videographers who are using videos commercially will have to pay fees to distribute their video online using a so-called 'open' HTML5 standard.  If they want their commercial HTML5 video to work on IE9, they will not be able to escape proprietary technologies.  Oh, and by the way, Microsoft holds several of the H.264 patents.  The final H.264 patents won't expire until 2028.

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