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H.264 vs. Theora — Fightin' Words About Patentability 421

Posted by timothy
from the ascii-art-will-save-us dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Thom Holwerda from OS News has penned a rebuttal to claims from Daring Fireball's John Gruber that Theora is a greater patent risk than H.264. Holwerda writes, 'And so the H264/Theora debate concerning HTML5 video continues. The most recent entry into the discussion comes from John Gruber, who argues that Theora is more in danger of patent litigation than H264. He's wrong, and here's why.'"
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H.264 vs. Theora — Fightin' Words About Patentability

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  • And the lawsuit goes to...h.264!

    • Re:First Post (Score:5, Insightful)

      by MrNaz (730548) on Saturday March 27, 2010 @09:35PM (#31644208) Homepage

      Why on Earth does HTML5 need to even specify the codec? I mean the tag doesn't specify an image format, why should not just have a src= attribute and any video supported by the system will play in it. That way it'd be the same as the change from GIF to PNG all those years ago, where those who want to use GIF could, and those who needed / wanted the free option (which was also superior) could use it without killing support for the other.

      I don't see why this is an either / or issue.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by OrangeTide (124937)

        so your suggestion is that all devices need all codec to be practical? Which is the current situation. Right now you just make H.264 videos to reach the widest possible audience, but it's still not 100% of HTML5 enabled browsers. If there was one good codec that a website creator can count on being supported, it makes things like HTML5 very useful. Without it you might as well use Flash because that is more widely supported than H.264 these days.

        • Re:First Post (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 27, 2010 @11:07PM (#31644652)

          No, he's not suggesting that all devices support all codecs. He's quite rightly suggesting that HTML5 should support all codecs. Why on earth should it be stuck with one? That makes no sense whatsoever. It would make HTML5 very limited and that is not something that W3C or any other standards body should ever even think of doing. The 'img' tag doesn't support one type of image format, nor does the 'object' or 'embed' tag support only one form of content for their usage.

          By the way, Flash is NOT a video codec, nor a video standard. Flash video *IS* H.264 (MPEG-4) video.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by bhtooefr (649901)

            And that's what it's doing right now. HTML5 itself is codec-agnostic.

            The problem is that it doesn't matter what codecs are supported, it matters what codecs people actually use to post content online. If you can't legally support H.264, and people want to post H.264 videos, you're screwed.

            Now, can browsers support the system codecs? Yes, and I've heard claims that on Unix, Opera actually does. Problem solved, anything that you have a GStreamer codec for can be played in Opera using <video>.

            However, pa

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by Nikker (749551)
              With todays servers if someone posts a video to my site I can just transcode it to any format I wish. If I want I can bite the bullet and pay for one license to transcode and no one knows the difference. When it comes down to it the end user just wants to see a slide show at around 30 fps, no special magic no 3D rendering just what they shot on their camcorder or their crappy cell phone camera. So why all this fuss? HTML5 is just a tag not much more and the end user sure as hell doesn't care, they just
      • Re:First Post (Score:5, Insightful)

        by gig (78408) on Sunday March 28, 2010 @01:34AM (#31645366)

        > I don't see why this is an either / or issue.

        In one word: standardization.

        For the same reason we standardize markup around W3C HTML5, we standardize video around MPEG-4 H.264. We need to be able to make just one Web app and have it work on any browser from any manufacturer. We need to be able to make just one video and have it work in any video player from any manufacturer. If we don't have that, then consumers cannot choose their own preferred browser, or preferred media player. They get stuck using IE6 or Windows Media Player solely to decode nonstandard Web apps and video. It's not acceptable.

        Modern consumer electronics devices have one video codec burned into hardware, and that is MPEG-4 H.264. This is almost 10 years old now. Same as DVD players all had MPEG-2. That's the reason the H.264 codec exists. If you want to publish a video that will play on iPod and other media players, iPhone and other smartphones, various set-top boxes, both FlashPlayer and QuickTime Player, both YouTube and iTunes, that is H.264. If you want to play video that was made with Flip camcorders, or Kodak camcorders, or Canon cameras, or Nikon cameras, or Panasonic cameras, or iPod/iPhone, that is H.264.

        A key thing to understand is that MPEG-4 is not owned by any one company. The patents are not held by any one company. They are put into a pool and licensed equally to all comers. This puts all the consumer electronics manufacturers on equal footing. Flip is not going to cease to exist one day because a submarine patent takes all their devices off the market. The entire MPEG-4 group would address the submarine patent, all the manufacturers are protected from litigation in this way. That's just not true with Ogg.

        On a Mac/PC, if you are somewhat technical, you can load all kinds of software codecs, most of which are made for authoring or some other special purpose, not made for consumer playback. Same as you can happily make Web apps for IE6 if your company uses IE6. But if you want to share Web apps with the world, you use HTML5. If you want to publish video for the world, you use H.264.

        Also, you have to understand that video authoring tools all work with H.264 for many years now, and not with nonstandard formats. Where you see Ogg video, or Windows Media, or Real Media, or any other nonstandard media, they were very likely created from H.264.

        This all has nothing to do with HTML5. As I said, H.264 is almost 10 years old and both YouTube and iTunes and both FlashPlayer and QuickTime Player play it. That *is* Web video. H.264 plays in Firefox today, and will play there tomorrow. HTML5 standardizes *markup* not video. So browsers now have to become video players. If Firefox doesn't want to do that, then they will see their users make an exodus for Chrome or Safari. There isn't any way to turn back time to when Ogg was current technology and rewrite history and re-encode the incredible amount of video that is stored in H.264.

        If you imagine that Mozilla was saying "we can't support UTF-8" that is the same as them not supporting H.264. The UTF-8 text is already out there, and there's no other technology to replace it, and that is the same with H.264 video. A Web browser that can't play YouTube is not a Web browser.

        • Re:First Post (Score:5, Interesting)

          by nog_lorp (896553) on Sunday March 28, 2010 @05:05AM (#31646072)

          If we don't have that, then consumers cannot choose their own preferred browser, or preferred media player.

          Actually, if we DO have that, I cannot choose my preferred browser: an open source one. Yeah, big problem there for slashdotters - FOSS cannot implement H.264 because of the patent encumbrance.

          Flip is not going to cease to exist one day because a submarine patent takes all their devices off the market. The entire MPEG-4 group would address the submarine patent, all the manufacturers are protected from litigation in this way. That's just not true with Ogg.

          Licensing the H.264 pool does not protect you from submarine patents, but it doesn't matter as submarine patents are no longer viable.

          It is true that it is incredibly important that codec management no longer be a complication for the user. HTML 5 handles this well:
            <source src='video.mp4'>
            <source src='video.ogg'>

          There: it plays the "more advanced", more established, license-fee-encumbered codec if available. Otherwise, it falls back on the FOSS codec.
          There should be a single format that all browsers support, but this codec should not require an exorbitant license fee without excluding a huge segment of the browser market (FOSS). As for protection from patent trolls, it is reasonable to presume that Google will side with any other company that is targeted for use of Theora.

          All browsers should support Theora, and publishers can host H.264 (or any other codec) seamlessly on top of that if they want.

  • Patent risks (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Elektroschock (659467) on Saturday March 27, 2010 @08:31PM (#31643860)

    If you want to get rid off patent risks abolish software patenting [] of technical standards, embrace open standards.

    • by bunratty (545641)
      The website sure makes a whole lot more sense than the arguments against software patents I saw on Slashdot last week (main argument -- ideas can't be patented LOL). But it still doesn't seem to be able to explain why absolutely all software patents should be abolished.
      • by Toonol (1057698)
        Why should they be allowed? Not allowing patents is the default position. There are a lot of ideas that can't be patented. I've written a book; I can't patent it, even though there are original ideas within.

        Before arguing that patents shouldn't cover software, there should first be some reasonable argument to extend them there in the first place.
        • by bunratty (545641)

          First, inventions are what can be patented. If you invent an algorithm, why should you not be allowed to patent it?

          Second, we don't need any argument to extend patents to algorithms. They already are. If you want to abolish software patents, however, you should make a good case for that move.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Toonol (1057698)
            First, inventions are what can be patented. If you invent an algorithm, why should you not be allowed to patent it?

            It stretches the definition of 'invention' to claim that algorithms are inventions.

            Second, we don't need any argument to extend patents to algorithms. They already are. If you want to abolish software patents, however, you should make a good case for that move.

            They aren't patentable in most of the world, nor were they even here for the period of most explosive growth of software. So
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by funkatron (912521)
            Well for a start software already gets copyright, there's no need for double protection. Secondly, the whole patent idea seems a little flawed. If you come up with an idea that solves a problem, that's great. If someone else faces the same problem, works on it and comes up with a similar solution, that's a patent violation. In effect you can sue people for accidents of history. If my second point gets corrected by someone who knows what they're talking about then refer to point 1.
      • Re:Patent risks (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Sir_Lewk (967686) <sirlewk@gmail.REDHATcom minus distro> on Saturday March 27, 2010 @09:23PM (#31644134)

        You keep on bring this up. The answer is, and always will be, because software is math []. Under US patent law math is not supposed to be patentable.

        You might not agree with this, but that is in fact why most of us argue that software should not be patentable. I suspect you confuse comprehension with agreement.

        • by bunratty (545641)
          I suspect that the actual reason most people here are against software patents has no resemblance whatsoever for the arguments against software patents you're presenting. I think the reasoning given in the website is far more reasonable and, frankly, honest.

          Software patents miss their legitimate purpose. Patents on software favour litigation in detriment of innovation, defeating their democratic justification. They force software producers to spend on bureaucracy, lawsuits, and circumventing dubious granted

          • by Toonol (1057698)
            That's a much better argument than simply stating "software is math" over and over again.

            Unless software is math, in which case no better argument is needed.
          • by Sir_Lewk (967686)

            Well then congratulations. You have discovered why people don't like software patents and have completed your quest for knowledge. Happy yet?

            Also, it should be noted that is of course an EU website. You'll note that more American centric commentary often brings up the non-patent-ability of math.

            Citation: Donald Knuth

            To a computer scientist, this makes no sense, because every algorithm is as mathematical as anything could be. An algorithm is an abstract concept unrelated to physica

          • Re:Patent risks (Score:5, Interesting)

            by b4dc0d3r (1268512) on Sunday March 28, 2010 @12:15AM (#31644998)

            Nope it's dishonest. The same thing applies to software and hardware patents. There's no distinction in that explanation that cannot be applied to mechanical inventions. You've made the case for voiding all patents, not just software.

            A far more coherent argument would include the rapid evolution of software, with examples such as GIF. Of course GIF is a special case which allowed a better candidate, PNG, to become more common (with a side journey into IE's market dominance holding back PNG acceptance while IE's PNG support sucked). So GIF encouraged invention, the "legitimate purpose" of patents. So a good argument is difficult to make.

            Very simply, math is abstract and remains free. The formula to calculate mortgage interest, or the location of a thrown object given the initial vector, gravity, atmospheric pressure (density), and external force such as wind, are not patentable. You can discover them and write papers and be influential in the field, but never patent it.

            PKZIP had a patented compression method. Zlib did the same thing, just using a different method, and created compatible files. MP3 encoders bypassed Fraunhofer patents. Maybe the output wasn't byte-for-byte the same, nor the compression levels equal, but there is a serious hole in the argument for software patents when you can just do the same thing a different way and get around the patent.

            The answer to Microsoft's Linux patent FUD is: Show us the patent, we'll work around it. The only place that fails is specific implementations like H.264 or FAT LFN or MPEG or SMB which are multi-platform. You can't program around a patented file format. Did you know that reverse engineering is valid for compatibility purposes? Why would that exist if not for a purpose? Then when you successfully reverse engineer something for compatibility, you can't use it because of patents. Why even have that exception if patents make it irrelevant?

            That's my main argument these days - if I can break the DMCA for interoperability, I can ignore patents for the same reason.

            The perfect mouse trap is invented, or the perfect lawn mower. I can choose to buy the patented solution, or go with a competitor. I buy in, paying extra for the patented hardware, and break a part. Is it allowed to fabricate my own parts to replace a broken one? Not if it violates the patent. So why can I reverse engineer for software interoperability, but I can't for hardware? Law may say one thing, here's my argument.

            Hardware which is validly patentable does not have an interoperability requirement. Your saw does not have to work with other saws, so the parts may be patented. A company like Black and Decker could patent a battery which powers their tools, and they would own interoperability among products but I'm free to choose a competitor or build my own, which need no interoperability.

            Software patents are increasingly used to protect a desirable object, so that content creators or consumers or both have to pay to create and/or access the content. Here's a new video codec, use it for a while while we hammer out the standards, then I pull the trigger and require payments. If you are the sole distributor of content and content will be consumed on your device (such as Pez and the Pez dispenser), patent away. But a method of packing up video to be shared with your devices, other companies, competitors and those in unrelated fields - interoperability is a requirement, and patents simply don't make sense.

            I have a mathematical algorithm which uses psychoacoustic modeling to reduce the audio data which must be encoded, resulting in smaller files. Brilliant idea, which is unpatentable by itself. The algorithm is unpatentable by itself. I can develop a separate model to accomplish the same thing, better, using the exact same algorithm (with a different model underneath). Psychoacoustics happens to be a fundamental part of the universe, which should be unpatentable like (natural) DNA is, or a description of gravity.

            So I u

      • I think you have the question back to front. The default state is no enforcement of any intellectual property. Governments introduced things like copyright and patents because they believed there to be a positive benefit from doing so. Patents were encouraged during the industrial revolution because everyone was spending a lot of time obfuscating their ideas and ending up inventing the same thing. By agreeing to enforce a temporary monopoly in exchange for disclosure, the government encouraged inventors

        • Given the huge amount of money that can be made with a decent CODEC by the film industry, it seems pretty obvious that the research and development would have been funded even without patents.

          If there is sufficient motivation to create open source patent free licenses then they'll happen regardless if there are patented competitors.

          This is a case where the FOSS community wants all of the benefits of patented software which is in this case technically superior without having to pay for it.

    • by im_thatoneguy (819432) on Saturday March 27, 2010 @10:05PM (#31644374)

      So just because it's on a computer and not manufactured it shouldn't be patented. Poppy-cock.

      The virtual world should get the same protection as meatspace. If you invent a new non-obvious widget you should be able to patent it regardless if a CNC machine or injection molder was required to manufacture it.

  • I'm starting to think that all the Hoopla over Patents, Copyright, and Trademarks is misplaced. Maybe we should all just work within the system?
    • by selven (1556643)

      What is that even supposed to mean? We are working within the system. Working outside the system is what you do when you just go and download everything you want instead of trying to obtain a legal copy. That approach works fine for most people, but not for the corporations who are producing the software (including the open source stuff) we use - they can't get away with it as easily.

    • The system that the US government ignored until it suited them?

    • by bcmm (768152)
      I would post a lengthy and reasoned response here, but it's just gonna boil down to the following:

      No, because the existing IP system is fucked and everybody knows it.
  • by discord5 (798235) on Saturday March 27, 2010 @08:43PM (#31643936)

    So before someone starts the whole "which codec is better" flamewar again: someone at xiph thinks theora is better [], ars thinks h264 is better [], and this guy has a do it yourself kit in the form of a shell script [].

    Have fun arguing, as the past few articles have been quite fruitful in that area. Sadly few have realized (despite it being the main focus of most of those articles, but hey, who reads those) that quality will not be the merit to win this battle.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      I personally like the mbmp format I just patented. It's similar to mjpeg except using bitmaps instead of jpegs to improve video quality.

    • by lyml (1200795)
      The guy at xiph is retarded, sure in the "random" frame he is showing it's hard to tell a difference but watch the two actual videos side by side at the same time. The superiority of h264 is obvious.

      In particular when there is white text overlay on the film, the compression artifacts of theora becomes very visible.

      Look at (for example) 21s and 26s into the movie and then try to say with a straight face that theora is better.
      • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Saturday March 27, 2010 @09:37PM (#31644220) Journal
        That thing keeps being posted. I personally detest it because it compares H.264 and H.263 in the same page, so people who skim the article look at the smaller images and say 'look how much better Theora is!' And they're right, Theora is better than H.263. It's not especially clear which is better in the cherry-picked frame but, as you say, it is obvious which is better when you watch the videos. It's even more noticeable when you grab the lossless DIRAC version of the source movie how much both of them lose.
    • by hairyfeet (841228)

      There really isn't any argument dude, as pretty much anybody with eyes can tell that Theora is about equal to H.263 but H.264 kicks its ass. That is why the FSF put out that open letter [] to Google to free VP8 which does kick ass compared to H.264, at least IMHO. Of course I personally think they are wasting their time, as Google keeps the best stuff for themselves (like their in house file system) and I don't see them giving up the ON2 tech.

      Of course the elephant in the room is hardware acceleration. Eve

  • by YesIAmAScript (886271) on Saturday March 27, 2010 @08:45PM (#31643942)

    In the first part, he takes Gruber's working (submarine patents) too literally. Gruber didn't mean literally patents that are applied for earlier but not granted yet. Gruber misspoke himself. Instead, he means companies who have patents that are already granted and they later will decide applies to new situation and then sue. If Theora becomes successful, it will meet with plenty of these, just as any other software success does now.

    In the second part, oddly, given that he rails against strawmen, the argument creates a strawman.

    The quoted response veers rapidly from addressing facts (whether Theora is within patent guidelines) to making a prediction 'I predict that MPEG LA may counter that they know groups have been pressured into licensing patents in order to use Theora.' Then it shoots down the prediction and thus claims to counter the argument. But that prediction is just a prediction, it isn't the issue at hand. And countering prediction you made up yourself doesn't necessary counter the actual argument which is that H.264 has a patent defense pool and Theora doesn't.

  • Thom is a jackass. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by carlhaagen (1021273) on Saturday March 27, 2010 @08:50PM (#31643966)
    There. I said it. Why? Because he counters Gruber's arguments with identical retorts, completely failing to see beyond his own nose, failing to realize and admit that all he is doing is just pulling his end of the rope in this tug of war, instead of coming up with anything worthwhile to consider in the choice of h.264 v theora.
  • I love Free Software. I really do. I normally piss-off people with my fairly hard-line GNU/RMS attitude towards software. In most cases, I will drop features so I can run the Free version of something, and all of my code is GPL3.

    But in this case, the so-called Free solution is the wrong choice to make. H.264 has won, and it won years ago. Now, an argument can be made that making a stand is important. But in this case, there is a pragmatic and strategic reason not to: taking a moral stand with Theora will damage other things, namely HTML5 and potentially Firefox itself.

    PNG won out in the end over GIF, mostly, because it had better features. But what enabled that win was that they could both be used at the same time. If early Mozilla branches simply removed GIF support, the browser would have been dead in the water. Nobody would use it, because the images people already have were in GIF format. Only because both formats were supported could Mozilla be even considered by most people.

    Today, people have data in H.264 format. A lot of data. A long list of hardware devices are made that support it directly. This data is not going to vanish, and people will want to play it. Firefox can choose to support that, or they can choose to become less relevant over time. Chrome is getting surprisingly strong uptake, and IE (ack) is getting much less offensive as time goes on. (aside: this competition is pretty awesome - browsers were starting to stagnate for a few years, and the rush for new features has been revived)

    Playing people's data and being compatible with most modern and future hardware is the pragmatic reason to support H.264; the strategic reason is that the moral stand is not about video codecs! It's about removing Flash and related proprietary solutions. Playing the SAME video stream (a .mp4 in H.264 format) in flash or the <video> tag is neutral as far as codecs go, but it opens up the idea of a Free player.

    The battle over codes needs to be left for another day.

    As for how to actually implement it, Mozilla et al needs to take a cue from how distros handle MP3 and other patented codecs - foreign "non-free" repositories. The details on how you do that are highly flexible. Mozilla seems to like over-engineering things, so I'm sure they can come up with a Clever Codec Plugin Scheme to automate this, as long as the actual codec is 1) a separate project, and 2) developed outside the org.

    Please - I love firefox, and this video issue is the one issue that could break them in the long-run. People like their YouTube.

    • by timmarhy (659436)
      this is it's a massive fail when people try to mix their morals with their software. what software i use isn't a moral issue, it's a technical one.

      i'm sure the hardcore OSS crowd won't listen as usually, and will happily continue to hang onto their 2% market share, year of the linux desktop this year and all that....

      • by Endymion (12816)

        The thing is, I am one of those moralistic "hardcore OSS crowd" people. And what Mozilla and the Theora-or-nothing crowd are missing is that even staying with Evil H.264, the video-tag/HTML5 is still a huge moral win over Evil Proprietary Flash.

        • A moral win? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by KingSkippus (799657) on Saturday March 27, 2010 @09:20PM (#31644126) Homepage Journal

          And what Mozilla and the Theora-or-nothing crowd are missing is that even staying with Evil H.264, the video-tag/HTML5 is still a huge moral win over Evil Proprietary Flash.

          I'm sorry, but I just plain don't see it that way. It is simply substituting one proprietary format with another. In fact, using the "technically better is better, period" argument of the poster above you, because Flash includes more features than simple video, we should be striving against having a video tag and just continue using Flash.

          The GIF argument just isn't applicable. When everyone standardized on GIF, there really wasn't a viable alternative that worked nearly as well. There is a viable alternative to H.264. Also, keep in mind that when GIF became a de facto standard, the legal environment surrounding patents was much different. It was a time when there was question over whether a compression algorithm could even be patented, and the chance that anyone would actually sue over it was virtually nil. Now, the sue 'em all strategy is actually a lucrative business model.

          Come to think of it, didn't we go through many of these same arguments around 10 years after GIF became the de facto standard? Wasn't the questionability of the patent-encumbering of it a primary driver behind the development of the free PNG format? Didn't it take around like two friggin' decades for PNG to be as widely supported because we didn't really know better in making GIF the de facto format?

          Don't you agree it's pretty damned stupid to repeat that exact mistake yet again under the whole "fool me once, fool me twice" tenet?

          • Re:A moral win? (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Endymion (12816) <slashdot DOT org AT thoughtnoise DOT net> on Saturday March 27, 2010 @09:36PM (#31644218) Homepage Journal

            You act like H.264 and Theora are both new, and therefore one equal footing, and so there is a choice.

            There isn't. MPEG video is already entrenched. It won so long ago, that hardware manufacturers are now assuming H.264 in most every device. Your "choice" is that we should somehow make the entire hardware and software industry magically switch away from the last few years of work they did, all the current and upcoming products they are releasing, etc.

            Yes, I wish this wasn't the case, and I wish that a patent-free format was used instead. But wishing for things that fly in the face of reality is the attitude of religious nuts, not engineers.

            My argument is that any patents in any of these formats, and all technical features, are 100% irrelevant. Normal people don't care. What they do care about is if they go to the local electronics Big-Box retailer and buy a camera, that they can post the video on the net. And that video will be in H.264 format. They care about watching youtube/etc. Which is H.26{3,4} format.

            If a moral stand is desired, which it should be, it should be done by:
                1) Promoting the proper solution, patent-free, as an alternative
                2) Dodging the problem so you don't drive people away from your cause. ("make the codec separate from the browser")
                3) Use H.264 anyway, and accept the patent lawsuits as a proper form of Civil Disobedience, and get patent law changed.

            The path Mozilla is taking is to going to cause normal users to say one thing and only one thing:
                "Hmm. I browse to $cool_new_video_site and it doesn't work. It does work in IE and Chrome. Firefox must be broken, so I'll use IE instead."

            How is driving people away a win? The scope here is greater than a video codec.

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by Draek (916851)

              "Normal people" are irrelevant here, writing a script to transcode a video from one format to another is trivial. What matters are "normal webmasters", y'know, those that'll go broke trying to pay MPEG-LA's exorbitant fees and close down their websites as result, or will simply refuse to host any sort of video at all and, as such, the entire 'online video' market will be relegated to already-established multinationals, essentially turning it into something as "interactive" and "diverse" as regular TV.

              The Wo

          • Don't you agree it's pretty damned stupid to repeat that exact mistake yet again under the whole "fool me once, fool me twice" tenet?

            Endymion's argument (which I agree with) is that it's too late. H.264 is already an established de facto standard, completely aside from whatever format people use for HTML5 video. The "mistake" (as you call it) has already been made, support for H.264 is already baked into a zillion software packages and hardware devices. At this point you guys seem like you're pissing into t

        • by Qubit (100461)

          even staying with Evil H.264, the video-tag/HTML5 is still a huge moral win over Evil Proprietary Flash.

          I agree that using the video tag would be preferable to using Flash, at least for just an online movie player (ala YouTube), but I largely believe in taking a multi-pronged approach here.

          First, there's a huge quantity of Flash content out there and people developing using Flash. Free Software enthusiasts can't even play that stuff unless they have some kind of tool, and that's why stuff like Gnash [] and Lightspark [] must be important parts of our overall roadmap.

          For web video we need to start pushing the video

          • by Endymion (12816)

            The multi-pronged approach is a very good idea, and you achieve that by separating the issues.

            Promote HTML5 as an alternative to propriety Flash video.
            Promote Gnash (others?) as an alternative to flash itself for games, maybe?
            Promote Theora as an alternative to H.264.
            Promote general software patent reform, etc, by just using all of the above and accepting the consequences as Civil Disobedience.

            By binding them together, a failure in one area also means a failure in the others.

      • Apples and oranges. Technical is what you are physically capable of doing. Moral is what you can physically do, but what others will not allow you to do so. That is why Free software is more of a moral issue than a technical one. Theora could be technically better, but because they have to work around patents, it isn't.
    • by diamondsw (685967)

      How I wish the debate could end with this lengthy and insightful comment. Firefox's stand amounts to sound and fury.

    • by _Sprocket_ (42527)

      Today, people have data in H.264 format. A lot of data.

      Today, there is even more data wrapped up by Flash. I suppose we should just be pragmatic about it all and keep using that. Right?

      • Today, there is even more data wrapped up by Flash.

        True, OGV is an alternative to H.26x video in Flash containers. But what alternative to Flash do you offer for making vector animations like Badger Badger Badger [] and most of what's on Newgrounds? True, one can hack something together with JavaScript and SVG, but nobody has made authoring tools for that.

    • But in this case, the so-called Free solution is the wrong choice to make.

      Will the aliens (or Apple personnel) who have kidnapped please return him unharmed.

    • by mqduck (232646)

      Mozilla support for a GStreamer backend [] is being written. Doesn't that solve the issue of H.264 support?

      • by Endymion (12816)

        No, because that is only for (last I saw) the Fennec mobile-branch. It's explicitly removed from the normal Firefox branch because of the moral issues.

        Which to me, amounts to Mozilla saying that they support flash and people should keep using it, as that's what people will do.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Vellmont (569020)

      I see a lot of statements in your post, but not a lot of argument or information.

      Why is this about H.264 OR Theora? Why isn't it about H.264 AND Theora? Like PNG vs Gif, why do we have to pick one or the other?

      You seem to think H.264 having "won" is a forgone conclusion. Your only arguments seems to be hardware support, and the "lots of data" point. How is that a sustainable situation? Hardware support is nice and all, but every other format the hardware support has become largely irrelevant as process

      • by Endymion (12816)

        It is a forgone conclusion that H.264 "won", because hardware manufacturers have come to that conclusion and are building all the new hardware with H.264 support. They are not developing Theora players. Those manufacturers are so certain of that bet, that they are committing a very large sum of money to R&D in the form of all these new mobile devices that play H.264.

        As I recommended up-thread, the side-by-side method is far better, much like PNG vs GIF. That doesn't change the fact that not supporting H

      • by tepples (727027)

        Like PNG vs Gif, why do we have to pick one or the other?

        Because it's impossible to create a free software distribution containing a browser that plays both H.264 and Theora and distribute copies in Slashdot's home country.

        every other format the hardware support has become largely irrelevant as processors have gotten faster.

        Consider this: MPEG-2 is still relevant because all the advances in DVD players' processors have gone into upscaling.

    • This is what so many have failed to see: for Theora to gain any traction it has to be BETTER than H.264. Right now it's not. H.264 is technically superior and the licensing terms aren't outrageous. It's been a couple years, but the cap was about $3M per year. The mozilla foundation had revenues last year of $70M. I'm not sure where they spend all their money, but this may be case where they're going to put up or shut up.

      People only care that their browser if free (in as beer) and works with all the pop

    • by tepples (727027)

      If early Mozilla branches simply removed GIF support, the browser would have been dead in the water. Nobody would use it, because the images people already have were in GIF format.

      It wouldn't have been necessary. The LZW patent under GIF was believed to apply only to encoding, not decoding. The editors of the H.264 patents were far more careful in this respect.

  • addendum (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Endymion (12816) <slashdot DOT org AT thoughtnoise DOT net> on Saturday March 27, 2010 @08:55PM (#31643988) Homepage Journal

    None of what I just said should be taken as a reason to not use Theora in addition to H.264. Push the Free solution, of course, but in parallel like what happened with PNG.

  • Is *everything* caught up in a patent fight and we cant do anything at all?

  • by MikeRT (947531) on Saturday March 27, 2010 @09:17PM (#31644102) Homepage
    One of my fears here [] is that Firefox will be hit as hard by IE 9 as Netscape was with IE 4. Mozilla seems largely oblivious to how ambitious IE 9 is. A hardware-accelerated, multi-process, significantly more standards-compliant browser that supports H.264 out of the box would be just the thing for Microsoft to potentially stop Mozilla dead in its tracks on Firefox adoption.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Matt Perry (793115)

      Except for that "only runs on a single OS" problem.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by dangitman (862676)

        Except for that "only runs on a single OS" problem.

        And which platform does the vast majority of Firefox installations run on, again? Remember, Mac OS X and Linux already have other browsers that support H.264 (Chrome and Safari). This leaves Firefox as the odd one out.

        When video hosting sites switch to H.264 and don't offer a Theora fallback, what do you think people will do? Stop using those video sites, or switch to IE9, Chrome or Safari?

    • by Endymion (12816)

      "Pride comes before a fall"

      It is the height of hubris to think mozilla has the power to order around IE, Chrome, Safari, etc, with only ~47% [] (or is it only 25% and already falling []?)

    • It's more like FireFox risks becoming the IE6 of internet video. H.264 is supported by IE, Safari, Chrome, and Opera. My guess is that fair number of non-/. FF users are going to go to Chrome rather than IE.

  • That was a fairly piss-poor rebuttal, especially the opening paragraph, where he sidesteps the claims of outside patent holders. Submarine patents are still possible, they are just less effective. One could stall the application until infringing usage is found, then scurry it along to give grounds for suit. Personally, I don't care. From what I've seen/heard, Ogg Vorbis/Theora are wastes of CPU cycles. Can anyone name any formats that have had issues with patent encumbrances in the past? Oh wait, I ca
    • by NemosomeN (670035)
      Hate to reply to myself, but my bullshitometer just went off. "Some submarine patents had a "hidden" time of 40 years (see footnote 27 on page 9)." This is an outright lie, if you look at the source he quotes. The patent in question was delayed by the PTO, not the submitter, due to national security concerns (Valid or not). This would be a case of a patent submitter being marginalized, not using underhanded tactics.
  • by Qubit (100461) on Saturday March 27, 2010 @10:16PM (#31644420) Homepage Journal

    According to the article here [], MPEG LA CEO Larry Horn said this (emphasis mine):

    In addition, no one in the market should be under the misimpression that other codecs such as Theora are patent-free. Virtually all codecs are based on patented technology, and many of the essential patents may be the same as those that are essential to AVC/H.264. Therefore, users should be aware that a license and payment of applicable royalties is likely required to use these technologies developed by others, too.

    When asked directly about the MPEG patent holders:

    Ozer: It sounds like you are saying that some of your patent holders own patents that are used in Ogg. Is that correct?

    Horn: We believe that there are patent holders who do.

    Okay, Horn: Who are the patent holders and what the patent numbers?

    Ozer: It sounds like you’ll be coming out and basically saying that to use Ogg, you need to license it from MPEG LA. Is that correct?

    Horn: That is not what we said. We said no one in the market should be under the misimpression that other codecs such as Theora are patent-free.

    Ummmm... You're just spreading FUD and trying to be coy about it. But you just look like a smarmy used-car salesman. I call bullshit.

    I have a good deal of respect for people like Monty who get this kind of shit thrown at them day-in and day-out from whatever weak-willed, money-over-morals, cardboard-cutout figurehead the MPEG-LA props up today to go and do their dirty work.

    Mr. Horn, your arguments are hollow and your acts of fear-mongering are unbecoming of any man. I'm not sure I'd go so far as to call your actions reprehensible had you not graduated from Yale and then gone on to get a J.D. from Columbia. I mean, honestly, is the quantity of cash they're throwing at you so large that you can pile it on top of your morals like steel weights in a flower press, keeping your inner sense of honor pressed down so it doesn't jump up and kick your ass for being a manipulative and deceitful businessman?

    Show us the patents or shut up.

  • by itsybitsy (149808) * on Saturday March 27, 2010 @10:46PM (#31644562)

    Soon lossy compression will be irrelevant.

    I demand full resolution video without lossy compression. Screw the compressors.

    Bandwidth and storage capacity will soon make lossy irrelevant even at HD * N scales.

    I want the FULL resolution that the cameras recorded.

    If you don't then enjoy your pixalated movies.

  • interesting... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by hitmark (640295) on Sunday March 28, 2010 @04:08AM (#31645908) Journal

    as i am sure at least one person affiliated with osnews would be yelling the typical "h264 should/must be used, as its the codec that produces the best quality video"...

FORTRAN is a good example of a language which is easier to parse using ad hoc techniques. -- D. Gries [What's good about it? Ed.]