Tag Archives: theora

Google’s challenges of freeing VP8

Since On2 Technology’s stockholders have approved the merger with Google, there are now first requests to Google to open up VP8.

I am sure Google is thinking about it. But … what does “it” mean?

Freeing VP8
Simply open sourcing it and making it available under a free license doesn’t help. That just provides open source code for a codec where relevant patents are held by a commercial entity and any other entity using it would still need to be afraid of using that technology, even if it’s use is free.

So, Google has to make the patents that relate to VP8 available under an irrevocable, royalty-free license for the VP8 open source base, but also for any independent implementations of VP8. This at least guarantees to any commercial entity that Google will not pursue them over VP8 related patents.

Now, this doesn’t mean that there are no submarine or unknown patents that VP8 infringes on. So, Google needs to also undertake an intensive patent search on VP8 to be able to at least convince themselves that their technology is not infringing on anyone else’s. For others to gain that confidence, Google would then further have to indemnify anyone who is making use of VP8 for any potential patent infringement.

I believe – from what I have seen in the discussions at the W3C – it would only be that last step that will make companies such as Apple have the confidence to adopt a “free” codec.

An alternative to providing indemnification is the standardisation of VP8 through an accepted video standardisation body. That would probably need to be ISO/MPEG or SMPTE, because that’s where other video standards have emerged and there are a sufficient number of video codec patent holders involved that a royalty-free publication of the standard will hold a sufficient number of patent holders “under control”. However, such a standardisation process takes a long time. For HTML5, it may be too late.

Technology Challenges
Also, let’s not forget that VP8 is just a video codec. A video codec alone does not encode a video. There is a need for an audio codec and a encapsulation format. In the interest of staying all open, Google would need to pick Vorbis as the audio codec to go with VP8. Then there would be the need to put Vorbis and VP8 in a container together – this could be Ogg or MPEG or QuickTime’s MOOV. So, apart from all the legal challenges, there are also technology challenges that need to be mastered.

It’s not simple to introduce a “free codec” and it will take time!

Google and Theora
There is actually something that Google should do before they start on the path of making VP8 available “for free”: They should formulate a new license agreement with Xiph (and the world) over VP3 and Theora. Right now, the existing license that was provided by On2 Technologies to Theora (link is to an early version of On2’s open source license of VP3) was only for the codebase of VP3 and any modifications of it, but doesn’t in an obvious way apply to an independent re-implementations of VP3/Theora. The new agreement between Google and Xiph should be about the patents and not about the source code. (UPDATE: The actual agreement with Xiph apparently also covers re-implementations – see comments below.)

That would put Theora in a better position to be universally acceptable as a baseline codec for HTML5. It would allow, e.g. Apple to make their own implementation of Theora – which is probably what they would want for ipods and iphones. Since Firefox, Chrome, and Opera already support Ogg Theora in their browsers using the on2 licensed codebase, they must have decided that the risk of submarine patents is low. So, presumably, Apple can come to the same conclusion.

Free codecs roadmap
I see this as the easiest path towards getting a universally acceptable free codec. Over time then, as VP8 develops into a free codec, it could become the successor of Theora on a path to higher quality video. And later still, when the Internet will handle large resolution video, we can move on to the BBC’s Dirac/VC2 codec. It’s where the future is. The present is more likely here and now in Theora.

Please note the comments from Monty from Xiph and from Dan, ex-On2, about the intent that VP3 was to be completely put into the hands of the community. Also, Monty notes that in order to implement VP3, you do not actually need any On2 patents. So, there is probably not a need for Google to refresh that commitment. Though it might be good to reconfirm that commitment.

ADDITION 10th April 2010:
Today, it was announced that Google put their weight behind the Theorarm implementation by helping to make it BSD and thus enabling it to be merged with Theora trunk. They also confirm on their blog post that Theora is “really, honestly, genuinely, 100% free”. Even though this is not a legal statement, it is good that Google has confirmed this.

YouTube Ogg Theora+Vorbis & H.263/H.264 comparison

On Jun 13th 2009 Chris DiBona of Google claimed on the WhatWG mailing list:

“If were to switch to theora and maintain even a semblance of the current youtube quality it would take up most available bandwidth across the Internet.”

Everyone who has ever encoded a Ogg Theora/Vorbis file and in parallel encoded one with another codec will have to immediately protest. It is sad that even the best people fall for FUD spread by the un-enlightened or the ones who have their own agenda.

Fortunately, Gregory Maxwell from Wikipedia came to the rescue and did an actual “YouTube / Ogg/Theora comparison”. It’s a good read and a comparison on one video. He has put his instructions there, so anyone can repeat it for themselves. You will have to start with a pretty good quality video though to see such differences.

Firefox plugin to encode Ogg video

Michael Dale just posted this to theora-dev. Go to one of the given URLs to install the Firefox plugin that lets you transcode video to Ogg using your Web browser.

Firefogg is developed by Jan Gerber and lives at http://www.firefogg.org/. There is a javascript API available so you can make use of Firefogg in your own Website project to allow people to upload any video and transcode it to Ogg on the fly.


On Fri, Jun 5, 2009 at 7:08 AM, Michael Dale wrote:
> I mentioned it in the #theora channel a few days ago but here it is with
> a more permanent url:
> http://www.firefogg.org/make/advanced.html
> &
> http://www.firefogg.org/make/
> These will be simple links you can send people so that they can encode
> source footage to a local ogg video file with the latest and greatest
> ogg encoders (presently thusnelda and vorbis). Updates to thusnelda and
> possible other free codecs will be pushed out via firefogg updates 😉
> Pass along any feedback if things break or what not.
> I am also doing testing with “embed” these encoder interface. For those
> familiar with jQuery: an example to rewrite all your file inputs with
> firefogg enhanced inputs: $(“input:[type=’file’]”).firefogg() … Feel
> free to expeirment based on those examples. The form rewrite has mostly
> only been tested in the mediaWiki context:
> http://sandbox.kaltura.com/testwiki/index.php/Special:Upload
> but with minor hacking should work elsewhere 🙂
> enjoy
> –michael
> _______________________________________________
> theora mailing list
> theora@xiph.org
> http://lists.xiph.org/mailman/listinfo/theora

New Theora encoder further improved

After posting only a month ago about the new Thusnelda release, there continues to be good news from the open codec front.

Monty posted last week about further improvements and this time there are actual statistics thanks to Greg Maxwell. Looking at the PSNR (peak signal-to-noise ratio) measure, the further improved Thusdnelda outstrips even the X.264 implementation of H.264.

Don’t get me wrong: PSNR is only one measure, it is an objective measure and the statistics were only calculated on one particular piece. Further analysis are needed, though these are very encouraging statistics.

This is important not just because it shows that open codecs can be as good in quality as proprietary ones. What is more important though is that Ogg Theora is royalty free and implementable in both proprietary and free software browsers.

H.264’s licensing terms, however, will really kick in in 2010, so that may well encourage more people to actually use Ogg Theora/Vorbis (or another open codec like Ogg Dirac/Vorbis) with the new HTML5 video element.

Alpha version of next generation Theora codec released

On Thursday, Ralph Giles announced the alpha release of Thusnelda, the next generation implementation of the Theora encoder.

The primary change in comparison to the first generation Theora implementation is a completely rewritten encoder with vastly improved quality vs. bitrate in the default vbr/constant-quality mode, and better tracking of the target bitrate in cbr mode.

Jan Schmidt made some experiments to compare the two versions and found a 20% compression improvement for no loss in quality while at the same time also achieving a 14% improvement in speed.

In 2007 there was a huge (and mostly uninformed) discussion about the lack of quality of Theora on slashdot and Monty wrote a reply clarifying some of the misinformation and explaining the shortcomings that the Xiph team wants to work on to improve the codec. A lot of these issues are now being attacked through the community and through the financial support of the Mozilla grant.

Theora is now much closer to H.264, if not even having overtaken it in some dimensions. Congratulations to the Theora team, in particular Tim Terriberry, Monty, and Ralph Giles. Once this Theora generation is released, it will be a competitive modern video codec.