The future of WebM

Yesterday I posted about the WebP still image format, expressing some skepticism about how easily it will catch on. Its companion format for video, WebM, may stand a better chance, though. Images aren’t exciting any more; JPEG delivers photographs well enough, PNG does the same for line art, and there isn’t a compelling reason to change. Video is still in flux, though, and the high bandwidth requirements mean there’s a payoff for any improvements in compression and throughput. The long-running battle among HTML5 stakeholders over video shows that it’s far from being a settled area. Patents are a big issue; if you implement H.264, you have to pay money. Alternatives are attractive from both a technological and an economic standpoint.

With Google pushing WebM and having YouTube, there’s a clear reason for browser developers to support it. YouTube plans to use the new WebM codec, VP9, once it’s complete. I haven’t seen details of the plan, but most likely YouTube will make the same video available with multiple protocols and query the browser’s capabilities to determine whether it can accept VP9. If the advantage is real and users who can get it see fewer pauses in their videos, more browser makers will undoubtedly join the bandwagon.

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