Google’s Chrome Backs WebM, Drops Support for H.264

Google (s GOOG) is throwing more weight behind its own VP8 open source video codec, announcing Tuesday on the Chromium blog that future versions of the Chrome web browser would support the WebM Project and Ogg Theora codecs, while removing support for H.264 video. The move comes as battle lines are being drawn over the formats used for delivering video over the Internet and on mobile devices.

On the blog, Google Product Manager Mike Jazayeri wrote:

“We expect even more rapid innovation in the web media platform in the coming year and are focusing our investments in those technologies that are developed and licensed based on open web principles. To that end, we are changing Chrome’s HTML5 video support to make it consistent with the codecs already supported by the open Chromium project. Specifically, we are supporting the WebM (VP8) and Theora video codecs, and will consider adding support for other high-quality open codecs in the future. Though H.264 plays an important role in video, as our goal is to enable open innovation, support for the codec will be removed and our resources directed towards completely open codec technologies.”

The decision to push VP8 in its web browser comes less than a year after Google announced that it would make the codec open source at its Google I/O developers conference in May 2010. It also sides Google’s Chrome along with Mozilla’s Firefox and the Opera web browser in embracing open standards for video delivered using the HTML5 video tag as opposed to using H.264, which is owned by licensing group MPEG LA.

With previous builds of Chrome, Google had attempted to balance the interests of the open source community along with hardware manufacturers and web publishers that had already encoded their videos in the H.264 format. But now the search and software giant has sided definitively with its own open source codec and will no longer back the format that had more or less become the industry standard for delivering video online.

Before today’s announcement, the market had been pretty evenly divided between browsers like Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (s MSFT) and Apple’s (s AAPL) Safari browser, which supported H.264, and the open source community, which backed Theora and WebM. But Chrome’s support of WebM and VP8 tips the scales in favor of open source codecs.

On the desktop, Google’s support of VP8 is bound to be influential, but the more difficult battle may be getting adoption on mobile and connected devices. Due to broad-based hardware support for H.264, many publisher rely on the format to reach connected TVs and mobile devices like the iPad and iPhone. But as a newer codec, hardware support for VP8 has not been widely established, which may keep Google from being able to push the format, especially on Android mobile devices.

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