Free and Quality: Google and Its Open Video Codec

May 21, 2010

I am not too interested in video. Too old. Eyes bad. Brain does not process short ADD-shaded outputs. Nevertheless, I know a couple of my two or three readers are into digital video. A couple of the goslings watch Netflix stuff on the iPads. Seems like a waste of time to me, but to each goose his own paddling area. If you are a video lover, you probably think about the visual experience. Fuzzy video is annoying to many people, but I think fuzzy video improves many of the programs I have seen.

The author of “Diary of an x264 Developer” is a person deeply interested in video in general and its deeper gears and wheels. In fact, the write up provides considerable detail about the differences between Google’s free video codec and the not free H.264. The issues boil down to “quality”, which is a difficult concept in information. There are, after all, azure chip consultants, who know about “real” and “quality”, two notions I avoid like the Ohio River. The write up said in Addendum C: Summary for the Lazy”, which is definitely this goose:

VP8, as a spec, should be a bit better than H.264 Baseline Profile and VC-1.  It’s not even close to competitive with H.264 Main or High Profile.  If Google is willing to revise the spec, this can probably be improved. VP8, as an encoder, is somewhere between Xvid and Microsoft’s VC-1 in terms of visual quality.  This can definitely be improved a lot, but not via conventional means. VP8, as a decoder, decodes even slower than ffmpeg’s H.264.  This probably can’t be improved that much. With regard to patents, VP8 copies way too much from H.264 for anyone sane to be comfortable with it, no matter whose word is behind the claim of being patent-free. VP8 is definitely better compression-wise than Theora and Dirac, so if its claim to being patent-free does stand up, it’s an upgrade with regard to patent-free video formats. VP8 is not ready for prime-time; the spec is a pile of copy-pasted C code and the encoder’s interface is lacking in features and buggy.  They aren’t even ready to finalize the bitstream format, let alone switch the world over to VP8. With the lack of a real spec, the VP8 software basically is the spec–and with the spec being “final”, any bugs are now set in stone.  Such bugs have already been found and Google has rejected fixes. Google made the right decision to pick Matroska and Vorbis for its HTML5 video proposal.

Fascinating but not germane to the goose. However, for those who want  a piece of the big Internet video file, the Diary’s author suggests that Google’s marketing is a little ahead of the code analyzed by the author of the write up.

With Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and probably your mom getting into digital video, Google may have to take even more bold steps to create a viable revenue stream from its investments in its digital video push. Casting a shadow over the footprint is Google’s nemesis, Viacom. Fascinating business situation with legalities, technology, and other issues mashed up.

Stephen E Arnold, May 21, 2010



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