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Mozilla Media Patents The Internet Technology

Mozilla's VP of Engineering On H.264 675

Posted by Soulskill
from the on-again-ogg-again dept.
We recently discussed news that YouTube and Vimeo are each testing their own HTML5 video players using the H.264 format. Firefox does not support H.264, and Mozilla's vice president of engineering, Mike Shaver, has now made a post explaining why. Quoting: "For Mozilla, H.264 is not currently a suitable technology choice. In many countries, it is a patented technology, meaning that it is illegal to use without paying license fees to the MPEG-LA. Without such a license, it is not legal to use or distribute software that produces or consumes H.264-encoded content. Indeed, even distributing H.264 content over the internet or broadcasting it over the airwaves requires the consent of the MPEG-LA, and the current fee exemption for free-to-the-viewer internet delivery is only in effect until the end of 2010. These license fees affect not only browser developers and distributors, but also represent a toll booth on anyone who wishes to produce video content." Mozilla developer Robert O'Callahan has written a blog post on the same subject, following a talk he gave on Friday about the importance of open video on the web.
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Mozilla's VP of Engineering On H.264

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  • Sigh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 24, 2010 @11:27AM (#30878428)

    And yet even with a perfectly legitimate, reasonable, intelligent argument against H.264, tons of /. comments will go against FF's decision to promote an open, free (for everyone, not just the end users) and sane video standard over a proprietary one, ensuring that only people with lots of money can create browsers, run video sites, etc.

    It's pretty damn simple, yet no one gets it. Just like seemingly everything else these days. Misguided loyalty to one thing because it's been promoted to the end users by those with lots of money as being "obviously" superior wins out over good things simply because people don't want to use common sense and for some reason trust people/companies with greedy motivations simply because of the idea of "they are famous and rich, they must know what's best for me".

    • Re:Sigh (Score:4, Insightful)

      by ozmanjusri (601766) <aussie_bob&hotmail,com> on Sunday January 24, 2010 @11:36AM (#30878510) Journal
      tons of /. comments will go against FF's decision to promote an open, free (for everyone, not just the end users) and sane video standard

      I think you underestimate how much commercial influence is being brought to bear on tech networking sites these days.

    • Re:Sigh (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Kjella (173770) on Sunday January 24, 2010 @12:11PM (#30878854) Homepage

      Insisting on fighting H.264 will be exactly like refusing to support MP3/AAC and only play Ogg Vorbis files. You know those right, the popular files you see everywhere? H.264 is the standard for all forms of modern video and both Windows 7 and OS X support that out of the box, Theora is if possible even more obscure than Vorbis. All this will do is kill their marketshare and return the market to the proprietary browsers.

      Mozilla think that they can bend a whole market of decoding, encoding, streaming, recording and editing by refusing to add it to their browser. They're not that important. There's fights you can win, and there's fights where you can only mitigate the damage. First time you try to play a HTML5 video, it should give you a nasty disclaimer, put the responsibility of getting a patent license if that applies, and install/cancel buttons.

  • by DrXym (126579) on Sunday January 24, 2010 @11:27AM (#30878430)
    Mozilla doesn't have to implement anything, just make the video plugin architecture extensible. Otherwise sites will just push other browsers which do implement H264, or will use plugins like Silverlight / Flash to render the content anyway in Firefox.
  • by diamondsw (685967) on Sunday January 24, 2010 @11:38AM (#30878544)

    All of the bitching about the patent/royalty situation ignores the following facts:

    • H.264 is hardware accelerated on nearly every platform, desktop and mobile - Ogg is not.
    • Ogg produces inferior video at the same bitrate as H.264, or larger video for the same quality.
    • YouTube, DailyMotion, and Vimeo have spoken in favor of H.264. Watch the dominoes topple.

    There are two alternatives here - Flash-based video and H.264. Don't kid yourself that Ogg is a third, because it's not going to happen. Time for Mozilla to face reality and pay up the license as Apple and Google have done. Otherwise, watch Chrome really destroy Firefox.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Flash is H.264.

    • by BZ (40346) on Sunday January 24, 2010 @11:49AM (#30878646)

      I don't think anyone's ignoring those facts. In particular, no one is under the illusion that ogg is a suitable replacement for h.264 in all cases. The hope is that a better codec than either will appear with more suitable licensing terms; in the meantime a premature standardization on h.264 would hurt the chances of that codec being adopted when it appears, no?

      On the other hand, you seem to be ignoring the fact that Wikipedia, say, has no plans to put its video in H.264 (so Safari, say, can't very well view it).

      > Time for Mozilla to face reality and pay up the license as Apple and Google have done.

      As a side note, Apple and Google did not have to pay for a license separately here. They already had the licenses.

      > Otherwise, watch Chrome really destroy Firefox

      If that were to start happening (and it's nowhere close yet), the calculation might have to change, of course.

    • by Ant P. (974313) on Sunday January 24, 2010 @11:56AM (#30878716) Homepage

      Time for Mozilla to face reality and pay up the license

      Yeah, that'll happen right after you start paying $5.99 to install the browser.

    • by GreatBunzinni (642500) on Sunday January 24, 2010 @12:12PM (#30878874)

      All of the bitching about the patent/royalty situation ignores the following facts:

      • H.264 is hardware accelerated on nearly every platform, desktop and mobile - Ogg is not.

      This is a "chicken Vs egg" problem. There are hardware decoders for Theora out there and the only thing that stops you from getting hardware support for a format is the OEM's decision to add it. Nothing more, nothing less.

      Ogg produces inferior video at the same bitrate as H.264, or larger video for the same quality.

      Sorry, back here in reality Theora's quality is at least on par with H.264 with the same size [xiph.org]. But thanks for your attempt at FUD, though.

      YouTube, DailyMotion, and Vimeo have spoken in favor of H.264. Watch the dominoes topple.

      How exactly do "dominoes topple" if not only they can easily support Theora but also it is a very easy way to avoid licensing costs? Support for H.264 is not free, you know? Didn't you even read the part in the summary that reads "the current fee exemption for free-to-the-viewer internet delivery is only in effect until the end of 2010."?

      There are two alternatives here - Flash-based video and H.264. Don't kid yourself that Ogg is a third, because it's not going to happen. Time for Mozilla to face reality and pay up the license as Apple and Google have done. Otherwise, watch Chrome really destroy Firefox.

      Just because you try to repeat "Theora isn't an option" as a mantra of sorts it doesn't mean that it's anything remotely close to true. There is a whole world out there that happens to enjoy watching videos online and no one in their right mind wishes to start paying money to keep doing that, neither the video providers nor the audience. So please pick up your poorly conceived FUD and go waste it elsewhere.

      • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Sunday January 24, 2010 @02:36PM (#30880446) Journal

        Sorry, back here in reality Theora's quality is at least on par with H.264 with the same size [xiph.org]. But thanks for your attempt at FUD, though.

        Someone from Xiph.org isn't exactly an unbiased source - maybe you could cite someone who doesn't have a vested interest in one or the other. If you actually look at the videos on the site, you'll see that Theora performs a fair bit better than H.263 (not surprising; most things do these days), but watching the 17MB files next to each other it's immediately apparent which is which. The colours in the Theora version are washed out and details are fuzzy.

        Now, if Flash would add support for Theora, then GooTube could easily ditch the H.263 versions and serve both Theora and H.264, rather than H.263 and H.264...

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by maztuhblastah (745586)

        Sorry, back here in reality Theora's quality is at least on par with H.264 with the same size. But thanks for your attempt at FUD, though.

        So... you linked to the Theora developer's site to support a Theora developer's claims that Theora was superior to competitors. And then you accuse him of FUD?

        Nice.

        The test you linked to, BTW, is crap. No triangle tests, no A/B testing, etc. Just one guy who uploaded and downloaded a sample from YouTube (the encoder and encoding parameters of which he did not know) and compared it to a Theora encode that he did using some rather... "interesting" settings, most notably this: "A keyframe interval of 250 fr

    • by selven (1556643) on Sunday January 24, 2010 @12:30PM (#30879056)

      Time for Mozilla to face reality and pay up the license as Apple and Google have done. Otherwise, watch Chrome really destroy Firefox.

      Time for Linux users to face reality and just give up and use Windows, as most other people have done.

      Oh, we didn't do that in 2000 and we have a strong, functioning, free as in freedom operating system now? I wonder how that could have happened.

    • by Johnny Loves Linux (1147635) on Sunday January 24, 2010 @12:42PM (#30879196)

      Here's a relevant quote from Geore Bernard Shaw [elise.com]. Quote:

      "The reasonable man adapts himself to the conditions that surround him... The unreasonable man adapts surrounding conditions to himself... All progress depends on the unreasonable man."

      So you're asking the Free Software People to give up their principles in favor of expediency and thus promote no progress. I think not. I prefer to live in a world of Freedom than one ruled by expediency. Expediency might win a battle but in the end principles win the war. Considering the progress of GPL software for the past 26 years I would say they are doing a damn fine job of promoting positive progress. Better for the reasonable man to use free and open standards codecs than the Free Software People piss away their principles.

  • Obligatory (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ilovegeorgebush (923173) * on Sunday January 24, 2010 @11:42AM (#30878578) Homepage
    It really frustrates me that a technology created and owned by someone (MPEG) and otherwise unrelated to the software created and distributed by another (Firefox) is by proxy restricting success and future adoption.

    It is so utterly archaic and unfair that this is allowed to continue; MPEG-LA have the industry by its consumers by their collective balls.
    • Re:Obligatory (Score:4, Informative)

      by onefriedrice (1171917) on Sunday January 24, 2010 @01:38PM (#30879710)

      It is so utterly archaic and unfair that this is allowed to continue; MPEG-LA have the industry by its consumers by their collective balls.

      Err, not really. Nobody forced anyone to adopt h.264; it just happens that it did get adopted because it actually is a good codec. There are alternatives of varying quality and success, and even if there weren't, nothing is stopping someone from designing one and marketing it.

  • More patent abuse (Score:4, Insightful)

    by russotto (537200) on Sunday January 24, 2010 @11:51AM (#30878660) Journal

    Indeed, even distributing H.264 content over the internet or broadcasting it over the airwaves requires the consent of the MPEG-LA

    Now that's ridiculous. Unlike many other technology subject to patents, it's pretty clear that H.264 is useful, novel, and non-obvious. But allowing claims that cover not just the encoder and decoder, but the actual bitstreams they produce, is completely abusive of the patent system. A fancy new saw to cut complex curves in wood might be patentable, but allowing that patent to cover the product would be silly on the face of it. This is no different.

    • Re:More patent abuse (Score:5, Informative)

      by Dachannien (617929) on Sunday January 24, 2010 @12:17PM (#30878924)

      Actually, the patents can't cover the bitstreams. Case law such as In re Warmerdam indicates that nonfunctional descriptive material (such as a picture or a song) isn't a process, machine, article of manufacture, or composition of matter, so it doesn't meet the requirements of 35 USC 101.

      However, the patents can potentially cover (modulo any prior art issues) the process of transmitting the bitstreams. It may sound like some really thin slices of salami to you, but that's how the law works.

      By the way, your example about the "fancy new saw" and the resulting cut wood is wrong. As long as the cut wood resulting from using the fancy new saw has a specific, substantial, and credible use (for example, it's not merely ornamental, although there's something called a design patent that covers ornamental designs), it is patent eligible under 35 USC 101, because it's an article of manufacture.

  • by ammorais (1585589) on Sunday January 24, 2010 @12:06PM (#30878798)

    How to silently kill Firefox:

    * Support Firefox trough funding (so that nobody can call you evil)

    * Buy one of the most successful video sites.

    * Implement a technology on this site that you know for sure Firefox can't use.

    * Reduce competition on this site by using a video format not everyone can use on their site(increasing linking and video embedding to your own site)

    * Support this video format on your own browser.

    *Profit.

  • DON'T PANIC! (Score:3, Informative)

    by Mad Fish The One (1563291) on Sunday January 24, 2010 @12:13PM (#30878886)

    Mozilla is going to implement gstreamer backend for html5 video element. See Bug 422540 [mozilla.org].

    Also, Opera developers are going the same way. See this blog post [opera.com].

    Using gstreamer as a backend will eliminate ALL the problems with codecs. Forever. It will be able to play just the same as a usual desktop players, and that means, it will be able to play Ogg Theora, H.264, DivX, whatever you like - it's only a matter of plugins installed.

  • by pmontra (738736) on Sunday January 24, 2010 @12:36PM (#30879102) Homepage

    ... pay to create and distribute video content or having to upload it on the few big sites that have enough money to pay the royalties to MPEG-LA.

    We might decide to use h.264 anyway because it's technically better but what I expect is that customers and content creators should be happier to see a totally free codec succeed over one that will cost them money.

    Youtube, Vimeo & Co are trying to use h.264 to become the new majors. I understand why those companies don't want a free codec to succeed: that would lead to more competition and less ways to profit from their position. I'm afraid that in this case their best interests are our worst interests.

    Think if it happened to images. You could only legally upload graphics to Flickr, Facebook and a few dozens of other big sites with the money to pay royalties. All vacation pictures and UI buttons would have to go there. Figuring out what the web would look like is left as an exercise to the reader.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by BikeHelmet (1437881)

      Youtube, Vimeo & Co are trying to use h.264 to become the new majors. I understand why those companies don't want a free codec to succeed: that would lead to more competition and less ways to profit from their position. I'm afraid that in this case their best interests are our worst interests.

      They're using H.264 because of the bandwidth costs. When you're looking at saving hundreds of thousands of gigabytes, the savings add up to very real amounts. It's not about stifling competition - that's a side effect. It's about cutting costs.

      Think if it happened to images.

      I thought it did happen to images? Aren't JPEG/GIF - the most widely used formats online - patent encumbered? I don't recall anything apocalyptic happening with them, but I have a feeling MPEG-LA will be more pushy. After all, they want money so they can work on H.265

  • and contrary to the concepts of a free market

    we should actively rip off h.264, not because we want to use the codec for free, but simply to undermine the status quo that some people, for whatever reason, respect this bullshit called software patents

    those who created the codec need to depend upon ancillary streams of revenue, such as hardware prodcuts that depend upon the software ideas. meanwhile, patenting a simple arrangement of bits is contrary to the free exchange of ideas

    you should only be able to patent physical objects

    everything else is abstract representation: this should never be protected. do we respect the idea that the church of scientology has a copyright on its sacred texts? of course this is bullshit, just as much as it is bullshit that the RIAA attempts to control the flow of bits, or that the chinese autocracy attempts to control the flow of information: the entirety of the phylosophical concept of putting roadblocks on the flow of ideas is a form weakness, failure. it leads to a less rich society

    ip law must be actively fought

    luckily, this is all too easy, because the internet is the disruptive techology that destroys ip law, whether some people like it or not

  • by CritterNYC (190163) on Sunday January 24, 2010 @02:11PM (#30880108) Homepage

    If Mozilla were bundling H.264 support right now, it would be closed source (so forget about seeing it in Ubuntu by default) and it would cost them $5,000,000 this year. Next year, the fee will be even higher. So, Mozilla would have to allot 6% of their revenue (revenue, not profit) to supporting this one proprietary video codec.

    H.264 is only supported by Chrome and Safari (less than 10% of those online). Let's keep it that way and keep the barrier for entrance into the browser market from reaching insane proportions. Otherwise we'll be left with fewer choices in the browser wars since lots of people can't pay $0.20 per unit for a product they give away for free. Mozilla and Opera certainly can't. But for Google and Aple, supporting H.264 in their browsers is free since they already hit the $5,000,000 cap this year (Google due to all the encoding and streaming of it, Apple due to licensing it for iPods/iTunes).

    So, it's EASY for Apple and Google to support it since it's free and they already ship closed source products (Safari is closed source even though the underling webkit is open, Chrome is closed source even though the underlying Chromium bits are open). Mozilla would have to pay a ton of cash (and increasing) and add closed source bits to Firefox.

  • Greed will fix it (Score:3, Interesting)

    by BlueParrot (965239) on Sunday January 24, 2010 @03:44PM (#30881248)

    It was greed and corruption that brought about this situation and it is greed and corruption that will fix it. In particular:

    Google wants Microsoft's desktop monopoly to break, and at the same time they compete directly with Apple's iTunes. As a consequence their only realistic shot at this is to help Linux flourish.

    Microsoft sees Google as a threat to their monopoly and hence they can't let Google kill Firefox as Firefox users would likely prefer chrome to IE, thereby strengthening google further.

    RIAA, MPAA etc... don't want google to grow to strong since they don't want google dictating terms to them, something they could do if they become the de-facto only site to serve video.

    MPEG-LA will try to squeeze every penny from the patent licenses while the party lasts, something google and vimeo very much dislikes.

    Essentially the usual short-sighted greed over quarterly profits amongst companies will cause them to push the situation until it breaks. It may take a few years but eventually the very greed that made a patent encumbered format the de-facto standard is the same greed that will kill it.

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