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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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  • Oh please. (Score:0, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 24, 2010 @11:31AM (#30878466)

    Just throw a DirectShow interface at the video player and quit shipping codecs.

    Let the user decide what codecs they want to install and allow the sites to choose what encoding mechanisms they wish to use.

    Not everyone requires free software. Some are prepared to pay a reasonable price for a product they select.

  • by Pinky's Brain (1158667) on Sunday January 24, 2010 @11:41AM (#30878570)

    Very few companies could afford a license compatible with the LGPL ... hell, I'm pretty sure the MPEG-LA isn't even authorized to issue such a license, so you'd have to make private deals with everyone. Going to take 100's of millions of dollars easy, maybe more.

  • 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:Sigh (Score:1, Interesting)

    by beelsebob (529313) on Sunday January 24, 2010 @11:43AM (#30878588)

    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.

    You seem to assume that one legitimate, reasonable, intelligent argument against H.264 immediately excludes it from the race. I by contrast can come up with three (at least) legitimate, reasonable, intelligent arguments against Ogg Theora:

    1. It doesn't have hardware accelerated decoding support on desktop *or* (more importantly) mobile platforms
    2. It is patented, and in exactly the same way as h264 will form a toll both on the internet
    3. It's video quality isn't as good as h.264's

    By your logic this rules it out as a choice too.

    I'd rather not view the world in such black and white terms though, and instead weight the two codecs up against each other. Personally, I see h264 as being the better choice, as it has only a subset of the drawbacks that ogg theora has.

    Final note: The best solution ofc would be for google to release a better codec than ogg theora for free, with no patent risk, and with video quality at least comparable to h264's.

  • by BZ (40346) on Sunday January 24, 2010 @11:46AM (#30878610)

    Google is not dumb. One major effect of a broadcast licensing fee for all web video is to make it harder to set up a Youtube competitor. Sure, Google has to pay the fee too. But it might well be worth it to them given the stifling of potential competition.

  • Re:Sigh (Score:1, Interesting)

    by CowboyBob500 (580695) on Sunday January 24, 2010 @11:55AM (#30878712) Homepage
    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 time Americans stopped thinking of themselves as the centre of world technology. If Mozilla is determined to follow US law only and therefore not implement H.264 because it's encumbered with license fees there due to dumb local laws, then it is going to go the same way as the whole US software industry - it will disappear into a black hole of law suits and legal action and very quickly become irrelevant.

    H.264 is a free and open standard, just not in the US. And to be honest, you can cry me a river. The US got itself into this mess, the US needs to get itself out of it, because quite honestly, the rest of the world is not going to wait around in the meantime.

    My prediction? Canonical will fork it as Mark Shuttleworth's vision of Ubuntu is that "it just works". If the only way for him to achieve that is to fork Mozilla, then that is what I'm sure he'll at least consider doing.
  • 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.

  • Re:HTML5 Video (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TheLink (130905) on Sunday January 24, 2010 @12:07PM (#30878812) Journal
    Why's that modded troll? Quicktime has annoyed me enough to uninstall it. I still have flash installed.

    Installing quicktime puts some stupid icon in the systray that annoys you every now and then. If you're not careful while installing quicktime, you might get itunes bundled along.

    Adobe hasn't got around to making flash as annoying as quicktime yet (but they have made Acrobat Reader annoying thus I no longer have it installed).
  • 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.

  • Re:FFmpeg (Score:3, Interesting)

    by GreatBunzinni (642500) on Sunday January 24, 2010 @12:17PM (#30878934)

    The need to "license other codecs" is exactly the problem. You shouldn't be forced to pay a toll to be able to perform basic, every day tasks such as watching web videos, particularly when you are supposed to be following an international standard. You aren't forced to deal with any of that crap if you happen to rely on a format which is patent-free. And that's why Mozilla is pushing for Theora, which is clearly the best solution to this absurd problem.

  • Re:HTML5 Video (Score:3, Interesting)

    by El_Muerte_TDS (592157) <elmuerteNO@SPAMdrunksnipers.com> on Sunday January 24, 2010 @12:25PM (#30879010) Homepage

    It's mostly just problem for Mozilla

    And every site that wants to host their own video content. H.264 also requires a license for hosting content. All those sites will probably stick to Flash if other browsers don't support Theora.

  • 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 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:Sigh (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Goaway (82658) on Sunday January 24, 2010 @12:44PM (#30879210) Homepage

    There is someone: Google. They bought On2. It is still unclear why, and what they are going to do with On2's technology.

  • Re:Sigh (Score:4, Interesting)

    by tepples (727027) <{moc.liamg} {ta} {selppet}> on Sunday January 24, 2010 @12:58PM (#30879356) Homepage Journal

    I by contrast can come up with three (at least) legitimate, reasonable, intelligent arguments against Ogg Theora: [...] It is patented

    What is the number of a U.S. patent covering Theora that hasn't been irrevocably licensed to the public for all uses by On2? The leaders of the Xiph.Org Foundation want to know.

  • Re:Nonsense (Score:5, Interesting)

    by 0100010001010011 (652467) on Sunday January 24, 2010 @01:26PM (#30879574)

    Debian used to have the "Non-US" repositories. I can't see why they couldn't go back to it.

    As much as everyone hates it, Ogg isn't going to win this. As far as I know there isn't a single hardware decoder for it yet. Almost any newer Nvidia card will do it. VDPAU under Linux works AWESOME. It will even upscale SD content (feature set C). Broadcom has their MiniPCI card that a ton of NetBooks run. I bought one for my AppleTV so that I can do 1080p. XBMC supports it. OS X should support it soon.

  • 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.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 24, 2010 @04:12PM (#30881582)

    VFR is purely a container issue, not a codec issue.

    Ogg also supports VFR, with fairly modest overhead. It just does it somewhat differently than some other formats, more like how windows media does it: Rather than explicitly switching frame rates, you use a high stated frame rate (like 1000 fps) then skip the frames you don't need.

    Some of the 'features' Theora skips are responsible for Theora's much more reasonable CPU usage. Other ones (like interlaced coding) are locked up behind a wall of patents (but fortunately no one should give a shit about interlace support anymore). Part of the problem with comparing to H.264 is that its not just one format, there are a dozen different profiles and most devices (especially hardware decoders) can't play many of them, even most software players won't play deep video or 4:2:2/4:4:4. There is just one Theora, and it even has 4:2:2 and 4:4:4.

  • Re:Nonsense (Score:2, Interesting)

    by aristotle-dude (626586) on Sunday January 24, 2010 @05:05PM (#30882096)

    You apparently didn't read the article. The issue is not that Mozilla can't get a license; it can. The issue is that it sees doing so as actively harmful to the web and to users.

    Removing Firefox as a viable option by implementing Theora only would do harm to the web and its users. It would remove the ability for users to use Firefox to browse the majority of video websites in the future all in the name of some "holy" crusade for FOSS principles.

    Firefox is not developed by the community. It is developed by a small cadre of Mozilla foundation employees. Open source is just a marketing angle for the majority of high profile projects.

  • Re:HTML5 Video (Score:2, Interesting)

    by aristotle-dude (626586) on Sunday January 24, 2010 @05:53PM (#30882634)

    It's mostly just problem for Mozilla

    And every site that wants to host their own video content. H.264 also requires a license for hosting content. All those sites will probably stick to Flash if other browsers don't support Theora.

    Do you work for a living or do you just live of student grants? In the real world, things cost money and companies need to find a way to recoup their investment in developing things in H264. Not every company can live off donations and selling t-shirts or donations from other companies which are "for profit".

    If if was not for there being some of those "evil" closed source companies, most open source projects would have never seen the light of day because they would not have had enough resources. Servers and bandwidth are not free.

    Open source software should not be "free" to download for people who have not contributed considerable code to the project. I think there should be the option to pay for a license to use the binary, the option to contribute sweat equity to the project in exchange for a binary download and just give the non-paying public a link to the source and let them build the binary themselves.

  • by shutdown -p now (807394) on Sunday January 24, 2010 @09:18PM (#30884462) Journal

    Did you just reply without even trying to understand the point? Flash became the de-facto web video standard *because* you couldn't rely on having RealPlayer, Windows Media or Quicktime being installed and have the codec in question. Just using whatever codecs are on any given machine leads down exactly the same path.

    It all depends on the time frame.

    See, OS X already has H.264 support out of the box. Windows 7 has it out of the box. The biggest problem is that neither XP nor Vista do (and Linux issues will be ignored in any case).

    Now, any HTML5-based streaming service is going to be "experimental" until there's IE support for this. Even if IE drops down below 50%, it's still too big. And that support will most likely come, eventually, but if past history is anything to go by, it'll take a few more years. Again, looking at the trends, it would seem that Win7 would be the dominant Windows OS by then...

    So, effectively, by the time you can get VIDEO element working in most major browsers, most OSes will have H.264 out of the box. For the remaining few - well, they'll just go and download the codec - most likely from Google, provided for free - and that's it. Not really any different from Flash (which still requires a one-time download).

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 24, 2010 @09:37PM (#30884612)

    So US law is very slanted against patent pools, they are viewed as anti-trust law violations by default and can pretty much only exist with the permission of the FTC. MPEG-LA has come under fire several times regarding anti-trust law.

    Part of the criteria required for a patent pool to be lawful is that it must be offered under RAND terms-- the licenses must be available to absolutely everyone at exactly the same price. No special deals, no incentive freebies, etc. Break that and the principles of mpeg-la are looking at time in federal prisons, the law here is pretty serious.

    They are currently playing somewhat fast and loose with the intention of the law, if not the expressed language of it: They are wilfully blind to most beneficial infringement, x264 is breaking the law like WOAH, but since they make the best encoder by far MPEG-LA looks the other way. It's not at all clear that the failure to enforce in these cases is at all lawful in the context of anti-trust law, so no one is going to formalize that kind of deal, and Mozilla can't afford to depend on the hope that MPEG-LA won't enforce like VLC, ffmpeg, and x264 can. They also violate the intent of the law in that the patent holders themselves cross-license with each other without paying into the pool, and the annual rate cap is highly discriminatory-- though discriminates via proxy rather than by name.

    Government regulators respond slowly, but I expect there will be some amazing fireworks once the FTC does wake up.

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