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Wikimedia Community Debates H.264 Support On Wikipedia Sites. 247

Posted by timothy
from the side-loading dept.
bigmammoth writes "Wikimedia has been a long time supporter of royalty free formats, but is now considering a shift in their position. From the RfC: 'To support the MP4 standard as a complement to the open formats now used on our sites, it has been proposed that videos be automatically transcoded and stored in both open and MP4 formats on our sites, as soon as they are uploaded or viewed by users. The unencumbered WebM and Ogg versions would remain our primary reference for platforms that support them. But the MP4 versions 'would enable many mobile and desktop users who cannot view these unencumbered video files to watch them in MP4 format.' This has stirred a heated debate within the Wikimedia community as to whether the mp4 / h.264 format should be supported. Many Wikimedia regulars have weighed in, resulting in currently an even split between adding the H.264 support or not. The request for comment is open to all users of Wikimedia, including the broader community of readers. What do you think about supporting H.264 on Wikimedia sites?"
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Wikimedia Community Debates H.264 Support On Wikipedia Sites.

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  • Stand their ground (Score:5, Insightful)

    by wiredlogic (135348) on Thursday January 16, 2014 @05:45PM (#45980539)

    Wikimedia should stand their ground to provide a good reason for device manufacturers to add support for open video formats.

  • by TimMD909 (260285) on Thursday January 16, 2014 @05:52PM (#45980595) Homepage
    Android already supports WebM (http://developer.android.com/guide/appendix/media-formats.html). I'm thinking this is more of a "should we care about the people with iPhones?" My answer would be "no." That'll add more pressure on Apple to not be jackasses w/ their mobile OS.
  • by Whiney Mac Fanboy (963289) <whineymacfanboy@gmail.com> on Thursday January 16, 2014 @06:01PM (#45980677) Homepage Journal

    I can't see how Wiki has all that much leverage.

    Looking at the list of most popular websites [wikipedia.org], I think only facebook & youtube would have more influence on video-standards settings.

    When did you last see someone turn down one Smartphone for another because it couldn't play a wiki video?

    Never, but it can add to a list of small frustrations, getting a user to switch manufacturers next contract renewal. You don't have to be the sole reason for a change to have leverage over manufacturers.

  • by Anonymous Psychopath (18031) on Thursday January 16, 2014 @06:01PM (#45980681) Homepage

    Android already supports WebM (http://developer.android.com/guide/appendix/media-formats.html). I'm thinking this is more of a "should we care about the people with iPhones?"

    My answer would be "no." That'll add more pressure on Apple to not be jackasses w/ their mobile OS.

    Remember Flash? Me neither. Fighting H.264 is tilting at windmills. The vast majority of people couldn't care less about free (to them) video formats as long as stuff works and looks good.

  • by tlhIngan (30335) <.slashdot. .at. .worf.net.> on Thursday January 16, 2014 @06:11PM (#45980739)

    Pretty much. Open standards can't gain ground unless someone insists on using them. It is like Microsoft's Office Documents in their battle agaisnt literally anything else. If no one objects to the propietary lock in, the open alternatives have to fight for their survival at a severe disadvantage.

    Or prove superiority.

    Right now, there is NO advantage to WebM or VP8 over h.264. The only reason to choose it is purely philosophical, especially since it's inferiority.

    No, if you want to push an open standard, you go to prove its superiority. Why do you think Google has basically abandoned VP8 (which is a crap unimplementable standard) and pushing hard for VP9? Because the next-generation codec war has just begun. And it's between h.265 and VP9.

    h.264 war is lost - there is too much entrenched.

    But the next gen codec war is not, and in the battle between h.265 and VP9, there aren't as much legacy to worry about. If VP9 is completely royalty free, guess what? The industry consortium will pick it, even if it is inferior to h.265 because being able to crank out parts with VP9 decoders for free means more profit for them. (And didn't Google pretty much pay off all royalties for VP9?).

    Standing your ground may win you the battle, but if you lose sight that h.264's relevance is going to diminish in the next few years to be replaced by the next gen h.265, then you've lost the war. Best to move on, and put your energy into promoting VP9 so it becomes standard.

    Hell, Google's stopped promoting VP8 a while ago - they wanted to add it as an option for YouTube, and it's fizzled out for that reason - Google realizes it's not worth winning the WebM/VP8 war - it's too entrenched. Just move on to next gen when the standards are still malleable and inclusion and acceptance are easy.

    And it'll be an easier sell, too. Right now if you make a graphics chip, you're going to pay the h.264 royalties even if you want WebM/VP9 because it's an expected feature. But in your new chip, you're still paying for h.264, but VP9, you don't have to pay! You as the manufacturer get to keep that extra 25 cents per unit.

  • by Bill_the_Engineer (772575) on Thursday January 16, 2014 @06:12PM (#45980745)

    Wikimedia's mission:

    The mission of the Wikimedia Foundation is to empower and engage people around the world to collect and develop educational content under a free license or in the public domain, and to disseminate it effectively and globally.

    The question is does supporting H.264 media files help or hinder their mission?

    If their goal is to disseminate the educational content effectively then it would seem logical that they provide a media format that is widely supported.

    It's really up to WebM and Ogg to promote their format. Wikimedia should stick to their own mission which is to provide educational content.

  • "These people?" (Score:5, Insightful)

    by FriendlyLurker (50431) on Thursday January 16, 2014 @06:25PM (#45980845)

    And for these people the cost of paying for a H.264 encoder license is trivial compared to royalties they have to pay for images, video, and music.

    And what about the developing world that is slowly coming online via shared community hubs? Won't they have the right to publish content too without paying exuberant rents compared to their income? The cost is trivial for everyone. I am sorry but open formats are the only way forward for a level playing field. All we are seeing with this WWF/H.264 debacle is a small amount of vested interests trying to justify extracting rents from the world population, when non are really required.

    That these closed proprietary formats/DRM are clawing their way back into our "open" standards, services like Wikipedia and browsers is a testament to how committees, foundations (and once democratic institutions serving the public interest) can be infiltrated by vested interest and their purpose corrupted slowly from the inside out. It is a slippery slope, read todays news to see how absolutely low you can slide [nakedcapitalism.com].

  • by BasilBrush (643681) on Thursday January 16, 2014 @06:26PM (#45980849)

    Never, but it can add to a list of small frustrations, getting a user to switch manufacturers next contract renewal.

    You WANT to add to users frustrations? Bad attitude.

  • by FriendlyLurker (50431) on Thursday January 16, 2014 @06:35PM (#45980917)

    I have watched Wikipedia being pulled up on two different smartphones simultaneously to settle argument/doubts more times than I can count now over the years.

    "Oh, your phone can't play that wikipedia video - ha! - what a crappy phone you should get one like mine next time."

    That sort of word of mouth marketing has a subtle hard to measure influence on peoples next phone contract signing agreement choices. I can't say how significant it is, but you would be hard pressed to discount it as not being significant.

  • Re:"These people?" (Score:5, Insightful)

    by FriendlyLurker (50431) on Thursday January 16, 2014 @06:49PM (#45981029)
    Sure Wikipedia isn't going to strongarm Apple into supporting WebM and OGG, and conversely Wikipedia does not need to be strong-armed by Apple or its vocal users into supporting closed software patent encumbered protocols.
  • by xvan (2935999) on Thursday January 16, 2014 @07:08PM (#45981159)
    What about the "under a free license" part?
  • by Darinbob (1142669) on Thursday January 16, 2014 @07:10PM (#45981171)

    Flash? People didn't care about free or not, so Flash was big and fighting against Flash was tilting against windmills. But today Flash is greatly diminished. Thus the lesson here is to NOT give up pushing back against H.264.

  • by lgw (121541) on Thursday January 16, 2014 @07:22PM (#45981281) Journal

    Why? I can watch and rip to H.264 with free (as in beer) tools. Is this some political thing? My tools don't convert to *.BasementVirgin, or whatever format this is. Just Works wins for me, sorry.

    The "next format" is H.265, as far as I care, but only when that Just Works.

  • Re:"These people?" (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 16, 2014 @07:31PM (#45981353)

    Nobody is strongarming anybody. This is about whether or not wikipedia wants a large majority of their traffic, possibly close to 50%, to be able to see video and audio content at all.

    And why would those 50% be unable to use a free and open format? Because Apple is controlling which formats they are allowed to use, and Apple is pushing H.264 and undermining the free and open formats.

    Is "strongarm" an appropriate word for what Apple is doing? Yes, it's a fair cop.

  • by Bill_the_Engineer (772575) on Thursday January 16, 2014 @07:39PM (#45981399)
    I believe they meant the content to be under a free license not necessarily the media itself. Besides H.264 is free for the content consumer.
  • Re:Why? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by multi io (640409) <olaf.klischat@googlemail.com> on Thursday January 16, 2014 @07:41PM (#45981417)

    It's an encyclopedia

    Exactly, it should just support formats that users have and not play politics.

    Wrong. I think it should "play politics" in this case. Wikipedia is one of the very few sites which, because of its popularity, uniqueness, and non-commercial nature, has some leverage over browser vendors, and has more freedom than others to make use of it.

    Almost everywhere else on the web it's the other way round: The browser vendors can force the site owners into compliance. If you have a smallish website and you want to provide video content on it, you often have no choice than to use an encoding like H.264 that all browsers support -- thereby furthering the agenda of consortiums like MPEG LA to steer the market towards a universal adoption of a patent-encumbered "hands off" format, and also lessening the incentive for browser vendors to support open royalty-free encoding formats. But if you run the like 4th most popular site in the world, the only one of its kind, AND you're not commercially bound to maximize your number of visitors no matter what, then you have some power to drive the web (and the whole industry) in the direction of truly open, royalty-free, "free to tinker with" video encoding formats, which would help lower costs and market entry barriers for new companies and individuals. Wikipedia shouldn't throw this leverage away.

  • Re:MP4 is open (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 16, 2014 @08:09PM (#45981565)

    In every meaningful sense, MP4 is the most 'open' useful video CODEC every made available.

    Only for a very narrowly defined sense of the word "meaningful", and a particular meaning of "open".

    The H.264 video standard is patent-encumbered. In some countries, the government doesn't grant or enforce patents on software, so this may not matter to you. But the USA is one country with software patents, and I live in the USA, so it matters to me.

    And it matters to anyone in the USA who would like to use Wikimedia, even if they don't understand the issues yet.

    The world's BEST video encoder, x264, is open-source and free.

    But still patent-encumbered. Thus, the nice folks who wrote x264 and gave away their work do not charge you to use it; but in the USA, if you use it, you must obey the demands of the MPEG-LA and pay the royalties they require.

    Thus, x264 is free and open-source software for a non-free and non-open standard.

    Meanwhile, the dreadful CODEC that Google bought was created illegally by using close-source development as a method of hiding the fact that it ripped off (badly) patented MPEG standards.

    Are you a lawyer? Is this legal advice?

    I'm not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice, but my layman's opinion is that you are just completely wrong on all points here. VP8, as I understand it, was created by people who studied H.264 and made sure that VP8 did not infringe on any patents. Many things VP8 does are similar to things H.264 does, but that's not illegal.

    Here's an example that may shed some light, from the Linux kernel. The Linux kernel had a driver for "VFAT" file systems, which can have "long filenames" (also known as "non-broken filenames" or just "filenames"; compare with older FAT file systems that can only have "short filenames" of 8 letters followed by a 3-letter extension). It turns out that Microsoft had a patent that covers VFAT, so for a while VFAT support was ripped out of the Linux kernel. But someone studied the patent and saw that it was a patent on a particular method of storing two filenames for each file: a long filename and a short filename. Thus, the Linux VFAT driver was re-written, such that when writing a file, it wrote a nice legal "long filename" and put garbage bytes in the "short filename" field. Since the garbage bytes were chosen to not be a valid filename, the Linux VFAT driver was not infringing on a patent that covers writing two filenames.

    The above hack figured out what was patented, figured out a workaround, and implemented the workaround. The "long filenames" are written exactly as described in the patent, but the patent was not on "a method of storing long filenames" it was on a method of storing two filenames for each file.

    Returning to VP8, my understanding is they did this sort of thing for video coding. They avoided patents but found similar things that would work.

    Did they succeed? Well, there was a delay of many months after Google bought On2 and before Google released their free version of VP8, and I believe during that period Google had their lawyers reviewing all the patent issues. They thought they succeeded. And then, MPEG-LA announced that they were forming a patent pool on VP8, but over a year later there were no patents in that patent pool. That is the best possible evidence that On2 did succeed: even with the source code to study, no patent owner was able to find infringing code.

    On2 also claimed that VP8 was "better" than H.264, but we know that is definitely not true. But it's the next best thing, and it's way better than older standards like H.263.

    After Google released the source, and the truth became obvious, Google simply used its billions to pay off the various IP owners whose patents the code infringed on.

    Nope. Factually untrue. After the patent owners failed to find any patents that infringed, Google was able to strike a deal with MPEG-LA where Google admitted no wrongdoing, gave MPEG-LA some money, and MP

  • by symbolset (646467) * on Thursday January 16, 2014 @08:10PM (#45981573) Journal
    This course of derision has not worked out well for fans of MPEG-LA so far. So by all means keep it up. God forbid you people take a civil, persuasive tack to win friends and influence people - you might somewhere.
  • by Kjella (173770) on Thursday January 16, 2014 @08:59PM (#45981817) Homepage

    Looking at the list of most popular websites, I think only facebook & youtube would have more influence on video-standards settings.

    People don't visit Wikipedia for the videos any more than they read Playboy for the articles. That you even put it in the same class as YouTube only makes you sound delusional, they are 99.99% video and Wikipedia is 99.99% not. When Google that owns the VP8 codec, owns YouTube and makes Android and Chrome don't want to eat their own dog food and push their own codec on their own site to their own devices and browser it'll never be more than an obscure alternative for ideological circlejerks, like art critics patting each other on the back for recognizing true art while the rest of the world watches Hollywood blockbusters.

    Even Firefox has surrendered [thenextweb.com] on this one and said they'd use the binary blob Cisco provides, if Wikimedia wants to be the Japanese soldiers hiding in the forest 10 years after the war is over and keep denying it's over and that they lost it's their problem. And by forest I mean /. where Ogg Vorbis never dies even though it totally* failed to catch any mainstream use. * Cue the counterexamples, the way Munich shows that Linux is totally going to take over the desktop. But to use an old proverb, one swallow does not a summer make.

  • Re:Why? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 16, 2014 @11:44PM (#45982665)

    The only reason the fight was given up was because Google gave up. Apparently they had no faith in WebM, despite having both formats on Youtube, so they renegged on their "promise" to drop support for H264 in Chrome.

    If you ask me, it's got EVERYTHING to do with politics. Every time they do something like that, it causes trouble for competitors. Mozilla had to implement H264 when they did that. It had to also support VP9 when they introduced that. And they're having to scramble to support Media-streaming Extensions now as well. Opera just gave up entirely and became a Chrome clone. All because Google desired it, not because they had to do so.

    You see, Google's about making money. It's not about winning or losing in a codec war, it's about who controls the future of web video. And if you can keep everyone scrambling to catch up, you can dictate what happens next. They're doing this in many areas of the web; SPDY (which basically became HTTP2), Pepper, NaCl, WebP, etc. They won't win them all, but they're all power plays to make sure Google's the one ahead of the curve while everyone else plays catch-up.

    If someone can take a principled stance against this, they should. Right now the only entities with a spine are the ones who aren't for-profit, and none of them can stand up to it, and end users should really be supporting them. Do we really want Google and the MPEG-LA to dominate like that, knowing what happens every time companies dominate something like that?

  • by Anonymous Psychopath (18031) on Friday January 17, 2014 @02:12AM (#45983307) Homepage

    Flash is still in use at 80% of the sites I visit.

    Apple's management are jack-asses. Let the consumer harass them instead of whining to the websites that their iShiny's don't work.

    Have you been under a rock for the past couple years? Flash is dead, and Apple killed it. It went from being used on damn near every site around to less than 15% today. It cannot be used on an iOS or Android device. Adobe has abandoned it. You should be thanking Apple for leading the charge to kill that turd instead of cursing them as jackasses.

  • Re:WTF? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Freak (16973) <prius.driver@mac. c o m> on Friday January 17, 2014 @04:26AM (#45983853) Journal

    Yes - it's called "most people don't care what their computer or mobile phone runs - they just want things to work when they click/tap them."

    When a kid in middle school, working on a Windows XP computer that the district can't afford to replace, and can barely afford to (under)pay an IT staff to maintain, accesses Wikipedia to do research for a report, and can't view the video because IE doesn't support Ogg, that kid gives up on Wikipedia.

    When a grandma, working on her iPhone, tries to watch a short video about a topic she's interested in, and can't, she gives up on Wikipedia.

    You're absolutely right - it is wrong. And Wikimedia stubbornly sticking to "free only!" doesn't fix it. Even a giant "YOU NEED AN OPEN PLATFORM TO VIEW THIS - CLICK HERE TO FIND OUT MORE!" when you try to view a video will only scare people away, not get them to move to open platforms.

  • Re:Why? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Freak (16973) <prius.driver@mac. c o m> on Friday January 17, 2014 @04:34AM (#45983869) Journal

    Wow. Troll? No - truth.

    Go ahead and play politics - but if your mission is "...to empower a global volunteer community to collect and develop the world's knowledge and to make it available to everyone for free, for any purpose." then to me "make it available to everyone" is primary take away.

    "Make available to everyone" means *MAKE AVAILABLE*. They're not the Free Software Foundation. They're not GNU, they're not even Creative Commons. Their mission is to make the information available to as many people as possible. To me, this means that supporting closed FORMATS for open INFORMATION gets to the maximum number of people.

    They also specifically call out that they are about "free content" - notably SEPARATING it from "open content". The part of the content they care about is the freedom of the CONTENT itself. Public Domain, CC-licensed, etc. The mission of Wikimedia doesn't mention supporting OPEN content as a priority. And that is as it should be!

  • by FriendlyLurker (50431) on Friday January 17, 2014 @06:28AM (#45984355)

    Even Firefox has surrendered on this one and said they'd use the binary blob Cisco provides

    In their own words, Firefox developers were betrayed by Google for not honoring its promise to drop h.264 from chrome [cnet.com]. Google really dropped the ball on that one.

    "We lost, and we're admitting defeat. Cisco is providing a path for orderly retreat that leaves supporters of an open Web in a strong enough position to face the next battle, so we're taking it,"

    The battle was lost and does weaken the open Web supporters position, but the war rages on in the likes of formats such as VP9 and Daala ("Daala is a novel approach to codec design. It aims not to be competitive, but to win outright," Montgomery said).

    This pressure of Wikimedia is just another salvo from the proponents of software patent encumbered video codecs trenches, attempting to extract rents and further erode an open free for all web. For those that support an open Internet it is our duty to reject closed software patent encumbered/DRM measures that want to turn our web into a glorified AOL, no matter how inconvenient it may be in the short term to do so.

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