Google buying a new video format for the web?

By Kshitij Sobti | Published on 06 Aug 2009
Google buying a new video format for the web?


It appears that Google might now be in the process of buying the web its very own video format!


Google and On2 technologies have announced an agreement in which Google will acquire On2 for $106.5 million.


For those who need an introduction, On2 Technologies is a software company which specializes in video compression technologies. It is responsible for the development of the famous VP3, VP4, VP5, VP6, VP7, and VP8 video formats.


While it may seem to be some of the lesser known video compression formats, they have been licensed for use by some of the most prominent of companies.


The On2 VP# formats are quite popular formats on the web, although they themselves might not be that well known. The VP6 format, is used by Macromedia for their Flash Video format (FLV) and can still be found in streaming video websites such as YouTube and Metacafe. Although Flash Player 9 release 3 added support for H.264, which is gaining dominance. Also the VP7 video format is in use by Skype for their video conferencing service.


Nullsoft (the company behind Winamp) also uses the VP formats for their own NSV video streaming format, and most of the online video content available via Winamp is streamed using NSV.


Most importantly perhaps, the VP3 format was donated to the open source community by On2, and it now serves the basis for the Ogg Theora video codec!


Companies such as Nokia and Apple have stated their fears regarding the Ogg Theora format, and that hidden patents may yet unveil themselves. With Google's acquisition of On2, could they be set to silence the HTML5 web video debate once and for all?


If Google decides to use their new gained experts in video technology to the full, in creating a completely new, open, patent unencumbered video format for the web, could we have a new video format for the HTML5 video element. The specification as it stands today merely states the following:


"It would be helpful for interoperability if all browsers could support the same codecs. However, there are no known codecs that satisfy all the current players: […] This is an ongoing issue and this section will be updated once more information is available."


Google has already showcased a HTML5 version of YouTube without Flash, and Google Chrome already supports both H.264 and Theora for the HTML5 video element. There is already a lot excitement around the video tag, with Theora support in Firefox, Chrome and Opera already present and with Dailymotion already offering a large selection of videos using the video tag.

While the time till full HTML5 compatibility is still far away, especially since the standard is still incomplete, some of its most innovative facets are already beginning to be adopted by browsers and websites. However, if the Web has to evolve to HTML5 and keep the video element, a common specification will be required, and we hope Google in on that task.

Kshitij Sobti

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