Google today announced they are buying On2 Technologies. This is one of their more significant purchases despite the relatively low price tag of $106.5 million since it’s video technology and Google is the largest video source on the web right now.
On2 is really an unknown to most people but their product has an amazing reach thanks to Adobe Flash. VP6 notably was included in Flash 8 and really brought about the age of Flash video (think YouTube). On2 also has VP7 which is considered a H.264 competitor. VP3 was released as open source and lives on as OGG Theora.
Of course by buying On2 Google will not need to pay any licensing for it’s VP7 technology, they can then bundle it into Chrome, Android and Google Chrome OS (finally giving Linux decent web video support). They could also open source it similar to these platforms in hopes that it will gain ubiquity.
This does however leave me wondering if this pending On2 deal had any bearing on the decision to leave HTML 5 <video/> codec ambiguous. It’s noteworthy since Google is very involved in the HTML 5 efforts. As I mentioned last month licensing is really key. If VP7 were open sourced and it’s licensing were compatible to meet Apple and Mozilla’s needs (which could lead to inclusion in Safari and Firefox respectively), OGG Theora is potentially dead overnight. Given Google’s strategy so far of making technology open source in efforts to encourage adoption, I wouldn’t rule this out, though it would likely take a while to evaluate everything and make sure they legally have that option. Timeline could also come into play here. The web isn’t necessarily going to wait for Google. These reviews can potentially take a long time. No guarantee others will incorporate it either, though it’s a pretty good deal should licensing work.
It’s also interesting that now Microsoft has Windows Media Player, Apple has QuickTime, and Google has On2’s codec bundle. It’s not exactly a “player”, but considering it’s usage it’s just as important.
It’s going to be very interesting to see how this plays out. One thing that seems relatively certain is that Google just made web video more interesting.
Wikipedia is gearing up for a bigger multimedia push. It’s text based data is rather solid as the world knows, but media wise it’s most photos and even in that respect isn’t as well covered as it could be.
An even bigger concern is what format should this all be stored in so that this data is still relevant and useful in 10 years or more. I don’t see a problem with reading JPEG, MPEG2, MPEG4, MP3, in the next 10 years though I do wonder if some of the lesser known formats might disappear from computing. While I like Ogg Vorbis, it hasn’t really proven itself in my mind that it can penetrate and achieve enough market share for people to care about it in several years. VP6 (used in Flash prior to H.264) will likely be available assuming On2 Technologies is still around or the patent expired (no idea when that is).
One thing that strikes me is that it would really be ideal for it to partner with Internet Archive. They have already started the efforts to document and digitalize lots of media. While Internet Archive’s main goal is to archive, while Wikipedia is to “freely share in the sum of all knowledge”, it seems that there is still significant common ground.
That said, as the Internet itself becomes the record for many things in Wikipedia, the Internet Archive’s WayBackMachine may also become a relevant common ground.
Gear Live is reporting that Flash for the iPhone is coming. Given how many times rumors like this come around, I’m slightly skeptical until I actually see confirmation for myself.
That said, if there is an implementation, I suspect it will be a special mobile version, and very MPEG-4 centric. By that I mean H.264 as the encouraged (if not only) video encoding, and AAC as the preferred audio format, with MP3.
There’s a simple reason for this. AAC, MP3, and H.264 can be processed using hardware decoding. This means the CPU isn’t needed, resulting in lower power consumption. Many mobile devices have specific hardware for this reason. There is unknown hardware in the iPhone, which may very well be for hardware decoding.
By leveraging hardware decoding it allows Apple to offer things like video without sacrificing thermals or battery life. Since Flash can now use H.264 as well, it could offload some of that complicated processing. The CPU itself contains PowerVR MBX 3D graphics.
This could allow for most Flash to work, with much lower power consumption. The downside to this is that VP6 encoded video wouldn’t be able to use hardware decoding. For many online video sites (which use VP6 since H.264 is still very new) you’d have to run off of the CPU meaning more thermals and power consumption. A notable exception is YouTube, which thanks to Google’s work with the Apple apparently uses H.264 by means of a custom application.
About Robert Accettura
Robert Accettura is a web developer, Mozilla contributor, open source advocate, tech enthusiast and occasional trouble maker. more »
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