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There’s a lot of FUD going around with regard to the H.264 versus Theora Ogg codecs, and the free software types are not afraid to employ it themselves.

Chronological history of relevant recent events:

Early 1990’s: World Wide Web becomes popular with mostly static HTML content and animated gifs and such.

Late 1990’s: Real Player, Windows Media Player, Quicktime videos are utilized by various media sites that want to share videos with their audience. Confusion as well as buggy and annoying software issues abound for users. Web developers feel pressure to support multiple formats of video.

Mid 2000’s: Flash becomes the popular mechanism for publishing video on the web. Sites like YouTube, Brightcove, Vimeo, etc make publishing videos a simple task for companies and consumers.

2007: iPhone debutes, does not support Flash, becomes huge success.

2009: HTML5 reaches Last Call in the WHATWG. Modern browsers beginning support for the HTML5 Video element appear. YouTube demos HTML5 video format using the proprietary H.264 codec. Discussion of open formats like Theora versus the proprietary H.264 become prevalent.

early 2010: Apple’s iPad debuts, also does not support Flash. Apple forbids use of Adobe’s CS5 Flash to iPhone/iPad app technology in developer license agreement. Mozilla refuses to adopt H.264 due to non-open license. Adobe abandons this CS5 feature, criticizes Apple. Steve Jobs responds to criticism, advocates HTML5 and H.264. TechCrunch publishes a post indicating wide H.264 adoption. Microsoft announces via its IE blog that IE 9 will only support H.264 for HTML5 video element. Open format proponents respond to criticisms: Theora is not inferior or dangerous, Theora is probably not vulnerable to patents, MPEG-LA is out to destroy human culture. MPEG-LA, the licenser for H.264 extends free licenses.

by 2015 in universe A:

Flash videos disappear. Due to the tweets and blog posts of free software and open standard proponents, and regular upvotes of anti-H.264 articles on sites like Reddit and Hacker News Microsoft, Apple, Google and all the major media corporations and publishers change their mind and use Theora instead of H.264. Mozilla wins its open standard gamble and its users do not abandon it because the videos they wanted to see didn’t work. Google releases VP8 as an open format.

by 2015 in universe B:

Flash videos disappear. The powerful influence of major corporations in computing and media prevail and H.264 becomes the widely used format. Firefox and Linux users must implement illegal, buggy H.264 software plugins to be able to watch most video online. Non-technically inclined and individuals who want quality video abandon Firefox for other browsers that can play H.264 videos out of the box. MPEG-LA group reveal their executive team reports directly to Beelzebub, group releases new license that requires users to forfeit their soul and charges the world with heavy royalty fines that lead to starvation and the plague in most parts of the world. Millions of children die while their anguished parents cry out “Why H.264? WHY?” China launches nukes. The world ends. Google releases VP8 as an open format.


  1. I think you’re probably understating the importance of VP8. Why would a free market pay to use H.264 once VP8 is (a) free, and (b) backed by Google’s lawyers? Early signs are that VP8 is a superior codec.

    (Of course, companies like Nokia have already shipped Theora, so one could consider it backed by *their* lawyers — but Google has much more power to change behavior on the web, mostly through which codecs it chooses to encode YouTube videos in by default.)

    • Yeah I was being a little unfair to VP8. I suppose my point was that it’s maybe a little too late for VP8? Either way, I do hope an open format supplants H.264.

  2. Long term, royalty free codecs are the future. Industry wants them, Governments want them. Freetards want them. It’s just a matter of how we get there and how long it takes. The more that people publicly and loudly claim that they don’t care about being locked in to high prices, the longer they’ll be paying them and the higher they’ll be, and as a result of the extra bureaucracy the slower technology progress will be.

    Funny you mention China launching nukes, since they’ve already invented their own CB-HD format to avoid paying H.264 patent fees, nearly launched a DVD alternative based on On2’s VP6 codec (stalled by business problems) and are currently pressurizing MPEG to release royalty-free codecs. They’ve also announced that they may force mandatory royalty-free licencing on any patents that read on national standards. And why would they do all these things?

    License fees as percent of final DVD-player sales price, 1999: 5-10%
    License fees as percent of final DVD-player sales price, 2007: 20-30%


  3. Think if something gets used widely enough such a jpg, feel the patent becomes unenforceable (well I hope so at least)

  4. You forgot:

    mid 1990s: Unisys use their LZW patent to target GIF tools, prompting the world to move, after much wailing and gnashing of teeth, to PNG.

  5. Firefox and Linux users must implement illegal, buggy H.264 software plugins to be able to watch most video online.

    Why would they have a buggy H.264 implementation? The H.264 spec is freely available, the source code of the H.264 reference decoder is freely available, ffmpeg already has a H.264 implementation that is standard compliant and Google ships a stripped ffmpeg version that can only do H.264/AAC and Theora/Vorbis with Chrome.

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