Philippe Le Hegaret, interaction domain leader at the World Wide Web Consortium, which controls the HTML5 specification, said he continues to strongly support the goal of a single royalty-free codec for HTML5. But, he cautioned, “I don’t yet know how we’ll get there.”
The options include having H.264 patent holders choose to license it royalty-free, or having WebM standardized under royalty-free terms. Le Hegaret said that all other participants in the W3C’s HTML5 Working Group have made royalty-free commitments for the specification, and he “invites those with [intellectual property rights] claims around video codecs to follow suit, and to build broad industry support at W3C for a single royalty-free codec for the Web.” As of now, HTML5 is codec-agnostic, he said, but HTML5 browsers do provide support for the HTML5 video tag.
As for WebM, Hilwa said it’s only as good as its first lawsuit. “Will they be sued for patents?” he asked. Further, will content providers such as Hulu and Netflix support an open codec, which might be easier to hack?
All this comes atop the subtext that HTML5 would be the new standard that everyone could agree upon, if they could just agree on the codec. Google’s move, Hilwa said, is a bit of a gamble. “I don’t think they know who’s going to come along” to support WebM.
For developers and content authors, the lack of a standard codec is an inconvenience, Le Hegaret said. “While there are tools to convert from one codec to another, it is computer-intensive and takes extra memory space. While this is not a major inconvenience for a five-minute-long video, it is certainly more painful for a one-hour video or more. (Such is common at universities when courses are video-recorded.)”
Meanwhile, the biggest beneficiary of the renewed HTML5 wars might be Adobe. According to Hilwa, “whenever there’s disagreement, it makes Flash stand out as the one technology that can cross all these devices and browsers.”