In August 2009 after the On2 announcement, I suggested that Google might open source a codec in hopes of derailing OGG which it feels is inferior as well as h.264 which is patent-encumbered. Google took VP8, the successor to the popular VP7 codec and started The WebM Project. To quote the project page:

WebM is an open, royalty-free, media file format designed for the web.

WebM defines the file container structure, video and audio formats. WebM files consist of video streams compressed with the VP8 video codec and audio streams compressed with the Vorbis audio codec. The WebM file structure is based on the Matroska container.

Google describes the license as “BSD-style”. A very good move since it’s liberal enough to encourage widespread open and proprietary inclusion. GPL is to viral for some potential adopters.

Software Support

For the browser side, Chromium and Firefox Nightly builds support WebM starting today. Opera and Google Chrome to come shortly.

Google also created patches against FFmpeg for encode as well as decode and created DirectShow filters which are available for download. I suspect by way of libavcodec we’ll see support in lots of other products in the near future.

Microsoft will support VP8 in Internet Explorer 9 if you have the VP8 codec installed. Not quite “support”, but better than nothing.

Adobe is also supporting VP8 in Flash, which means content producers can eventually kill VP7 and VP6 encoding and use VP8 to reach most of their audience. This is very important as encoding videos into several formats is costly and time consuming (I know this very well).

Hardware Support

Google has already said they are working with video and silicon vendors to add VP8 hardware acceleration to their chipsets. I suspect newer phones in the near future will be supporting it. Especially if they run Android.


Google is supporting WebM in the HTML5 test for YouTube which I mentioned a few months ago. I suspect we’ll see lots more support in the very near future.


Even more telling of the potential than the above is the list of supporters which contains some big names who can put a lot of weight behind hardware/software/content support. AMD (who owns ATI), NVIDIA, Marvell (lots of mobile chipsets), Qualcomm (think mobile chipsets), TI, Broadcom, ARM on the hardware side alone is impressive. If the majority of them add hardware support to their upcoming offerings, that will be game changing. On the software side leaves 1.5 holdouts in the web video world: Apple (1) and Microsoft (0.5).

This is a game changer.

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9 Responses to “WebM”

  1. Wan Li says:

    If WebM is based on the Matroska container, does it support live streaming well?

  2. Duv says:

    Ummmm… “Microsoft will support VP9 in Internet Explorer 9 if you have the VP8 codec installed.”?
    Don’t you mean “Microsoft will support VP8 in Internet Explorer 9 if you have the VP8 codec installed”?

  3. Robert says:

    @Duv: Thanks for pointing out the typo. Fixed.

  4. Hub says:

    How about backporting the decoding support in Firefox 3.6.x so that it can be used now by most users? That would be very disruptive.

  5. @Hub: The code doesn’t really seem ready yet. I don’t have much idea of the timing involved, but I doubt there is much “disruptive” benefit to be gained by releasing a Firefox 3.6 with support in, say, September, if Firefox 4 is going to be out in, say, December. A lot of extra work for a small timing difference…

  6. Gabe says:

    What about Intel? What about subtitle support?

  7. Robert says:

    @Gabe: Matroska does seem to support subtitles. I presume that means WebM supports them as well. I don’t think Intel has announced anything regarding support.

  8. Gabe says:

    Just an update. Initial WebM release does not support subtitles.

    * WHATWG / W3C RFC will release guidance on subtitles and other overlays in HTML5 in the near future. WebM intends to follow that guidance.

    [1] http://www.webmproject.org/code/specs/container/

  9. Chris Pearce says:

    For the browser side, Chromium and Firefox Nightly builds support WebM starting today. Opera and Google Chrome to come shortly.

    Not quite. Support hasn’t landed yet, but there are patches our bugs which still need to be reviewed. Chris Double lists the patches required for support of VP8 in Firefox.

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