H.264 is royalty-free for Web use through 2015, but still not a good idea

The MPEG LA (Licensing Authority) has announced that H.264 licenses for free internet video will be free until the end of 2015.

I still don't think it's a good idea to use H.264 as the standard video codec on the Web. …

One should be careful about reading too much into the announcement, but one might suspect that the MPEG LA really wants H.264 to become the standard video codec on the Web, and they may be seeing Theora as a real threat. After all, Theora is supported by a much greater share of the browser market that supports HTML5 VIDEO. By postponing the new licensing for Web video, they are tackling one of Theora's advantages head-on.

Furthermore, they may be betting on people not thinking about the long-term effects. If they can manage to sell H.264 as a "free" codec now, they can reap the benefits in a few years if they successfully make H.264 the HTML5 codec of choice.

"The first hit is free", as they say. And after that, it will likely be very expensive. And they will get away with it because the Web will have started to rely on H.264, and we won't have a choice.

I think we should think longer term than just a couple of years into the future. The licensing terms for H.264 are rather hostile, and basically seem to state that anyone who produces or even watches H.264 video is responsible for licenses being paid. So if that site you are watching videos from did not pay their license, you as the user could be held personally accountable. Are you sure that site has a valid license?

You also won't be able to use H.264 encoded video for anything other than free, private, personal use unless you are willing to pay.

H.264 might be free for free Web streaming for the next few years, but it's still bad for the Web. And once the free period is over, we will all be in a quagmire of licenses, and a MPEG LA eager to make up for the lost license income for those years.

H.264 might be free for now, but we shouldn't be tricked into painting ourselves into a corner of closed, proprietary codecs as a fundamental building block for the Web.

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118 thoughts on “H.264 is royalty-free for Web use through 2015, but still not a good idea

  1. Originally posted by deadHarlequin:

    Theora took another blow today

    Not exactly, this could make Theora 2.0.

  2. Originally posted by Dillon:

    I understand what the FSF was trying to say, but I thought their language was… weird and not particularly persuasive. Of course if VP8 were made free (and goodness knows if any other companies have patents on it) it wouldn't be "theora" as much as mpeg-4 is mpeg-2.

    The point is to have an open standard, not to have Theora. Theora is just about the only thing available, though. It's not all bad either. As for the text itself, I thought it was reasonable.Originally posted by deadHarlequin:

    frans,they are selling it out pretty easily in my opinion, the "we never did agree" doesnt change that. And I didnt bring that here to make my case against theora, I have the worst of the worst opinion about FSF to do that.

    Alright.Originally posted by deadHarlequin:

    If I were a theora supporter/dev that anouncement would have made me upset.

    Then you'd be supporting Theora for different reasons than most of us are, I imagine.

  3. Originally posted by deadHarlequin:

    Theora took another blow today, this time from FSF.

    Huh? Are you drunk or something? How is this a "blow" to Theora? If anything it's a blow to h264. If VP8 is released for free and is used instead of Theora, GREAT! It's h264 that will suffer.The point is OPEN STANDARDS, not any particular codec.

    at this moment seems it cant compete

    Wrong.

    What I dont like are all these mujahedins which think their way is the way if they dub it as 'open','for the planet', 'for the children' and so on.

    Yet another Microsoft shill who fails to understand that the web needs to stay open and free.BTW, YOU are the "mujhahedin" because YOU are clearly blinded by your own extremist ideology, as evidenced from your "blow to Theora" nonsense.

  4. "Labeling is a bad thing".If anything, this VP8 news is excellent. Given the astronomical difference in hardware expenses between h.264 and Theora, VP8 may (hopefully) shore-up the gap.(Cited previously: the very simple x264 on YouTube can be coded several times faster than theora, while fuller uses of the h.264 'spec' offer better quality AND bitrate with better encoding times)I'd say VP8 must hold *some* promise if Google's willing to buy it outright, but I would like to see more news comparing it against- ohwaitididasearch:From the mouths of mewling infants.http://www.on2.com/index.php?599Very little coherency here, either.http://forum.doom9.org/archive/index.php/t-141107.htmlLots of detail, great insight, a little depressing.http://x264dev.multimedia.cx/?p=292Now I really LIKE this guy's simple points.http://seekingalpha.com/article/154160-google-on2-deal-debunking-myths-questioning-vp8-s-quality"My opinion is that the x264 mp4 codec has the same quality as the On2 VP8 flv codec (better than VP6 and VP7) at the same bit rate but encodes up to 3x faster at the default settings. ffmpeg can encode very crediable Spark flvs but requires 2x the video bit rate of x264 or VP8 for the same quality (1000kbs minimum for 720×480 size video to prevent execessive macroblocking artifacts). x264 mp4 videos are extremely good but x264.exe is a commandline program that has a steep learning curve."http://flowplayer.org/forum/2/35077This implies that VP8 is adaptive, multi-frame-rate encoding for mobile devices. Perhaps a better low-res codec?http://www.dspdesignline.com/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=214303691Happy reading!

  5. Originally posted by hellspork:

    From the mouths of mewling infants.http://www.on2.com/index.php?599

    That page has been around for a while actually so the comparison is also dated. Also worth noting that the video comparison has been reencoded with vp6 so…That x264dev.multimedia.cx site is by one of the lead devs of x264 (an expert on video encoding). The seekingalpha.com post also seems credible, with a very intelligent analysis. Everyone interested in this comment thread, or the future of online video should read them.The dspdesign page seems to imply that VP8 is basically the same as h.264 with some minor improvements (different loop filter strength for different areas, macroblock threading, maybe slightly better sub pixel filtering). Being able to use variable frame rates basically only depends on the container (thank goodness avi is dying), not on the codec really. If the sub-pixel filtering in VP8 is really better than h.264's then that would give it some advantage on low-res (like CIF) video.

  6. "x264 mp4 videos are extremely good but x264.exe is a commandline program that has a steep learning curve."Any codecs that don't have a steep learning curve? <_<

  7. Yeah I totally agree, Frans, haha. They're working on improving that in x264 by making the commandline simpler (presets and such) but pretty much all codecs use commandline. There are frontends (like handbrake, etc) that can make it easier. I think half the fun is tinkering with settings though.

  8. Most of the time (recently), I have resorted to quick-n-dirty recodes using VLC. Before running one, I do some random seeking with the motion detection filter on. Generally, the more perceived motion, the more bits I need to give the codec. It may be crude, but it saves time and I seldom need to redo it.I have seen containers that encode segments of a video with different frame rates, but I was talking about the highly intensive use of constantly variable and asynchronous frame updates. The hardware demand is exponentially greater (I have seen 720p produce high load with these settings), but the data savings are also very good. In most cases I think jumping to 120fps is still the better route.

  9. Originally posted by Dillon:

    Yeah I totally agree, Frans, haha. They're working on improving that in x264 by making the commandline simpler (presets and such) but pretty much all codecs use commandline.

    I don't see the difference between terminal & lots of boxes in a GUI, with steep learning curve I just mean to know what makes it tick. That said, I don't bother much, pretty much like Cutting Spoon in the reply right above this one (I've also used VLC to my satisfaction).

  10. It's a pity that VLC's transcoder options have been very schizophrenic. Currently it's quite easy to specify a format combo that simply does not work. However, certain older builds filtered compatible options and provided better SMP tweaks. Even so, VLC is light and flexible, fast enough and good enough. I think they're still using it in Crunchbang! and certain other lightweight Linux distros.

  11. I prefer to use Avidemux or some such because, like you said, VLC isn't quite as dependable as I'd like. I do like its transcoding options (for broadcasting) a lot, but that's slightly different.

  12. Yeah VLC's implementation of encoders can be flaky (and only updated as often as VLC is, or less often). Avidemux is really solid, I've grown to like it a lot, especially with the avisynth proxy (love me some avisynth). Used to use MeGUI but development died for a bit and I haven't checked back on it. There are tons of good front-ends though.

  13. i've lost complete faith in google, as they make youtube use h264 KNOWING that it wont work under opera nor firefox (out of the box) and knowing that isn't a free codec.

  14. Well MPEG-LA is drafting h.265 with a target ~2013 or so; this would indicate that h.264 will be non-premium in five years and may possibly remain free within the current limited license. Also, the current license means that we should be able to have free h.264 playback for five years. Wouldn't that be nice?http://x264dev.multimedia.cx/?p=360x264 devs are looking to publish a new codec comparison:http://x264dev.multimedia.cx/?p=372

  15. Originally posted by aalaap:

    But it's clear why H.264 is a better way forward.

    How will all browser vendors pay the fees?…

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