Google Chrome to drop H.264 support [Updated]

Google has announced that they are preparing to drop support for the H.264 video codec from their Chrome browser. This is the codec which allows playback of YouTube videos, and videos from countless other video sites across the web, and it’s also the primary codec supported the iPhone and iPad. Presumably Google will transcode their YouTube videos to their recently acquired (and open-sourced) WebM video codec.

The tech pundits are up in arms and snarkily ask simple questions. And sure enough, this kinda sucks, there’s no denying that. On the surface of this, dropping H.264 support (which currently works just fine in Google Chrome) is a desperate attempt from Google to get the web as a whole to flock to WebM, the open alternative to H.264. Presuming Google goes through with this, I have a few questions of my own as to what and why:

  • What will happen if Google Chrome surfs on to a website that has an H.264 video? Will the file download, or open in a media player installed on the computer? Or will it simply show a “missing plugin” icon? Or will the playback be handled by the Flash Player?
  • If this is indeed a codec-war standoff, does Chrome have a large enough user base to make a difference? And wouldn’t it then be a better play to simply transcode all YouTube videos and have them play back best in Chrome?

I’m not ready to drop Chrome as my browser — it’s still the best one out there. Are you dropping Chrome?

5 thoughts on “Google Chrome to drop H.264 support [Updated]”

  1. It simply creates a larger WebM-only block, which now consists of Firefox & Chrome. I’m sure Google can find a way to get the WebM codec on IE9 machines, which means only older IEs and Safari won’t support it.

    I think ultimately the format war will be won on the basis of mobile components for hardware acceleration, so it’ll be interesting to see what Google does in that area.

    This move might not win the war, but it’ll give them more time.

  2. I don’t think Chrome has a large enough user base to make it tip the balance, but on the other hand, it’s a bold move that is pretty strong statement from Google, and at the same time, they are doing this at a time, where users are getting used to videos not playing on their iOS-devices etc., which leads me to think that users won’t be as bothered by this as they would 2 years ago.

    So a strong statement, but in a time where the Chrome product maybe won’t be the target of too much critisism as you would expect, since video is no longer bound to be working on all platforms?

  3. Lars Harder says:

    This will hardly affect the position of h.264 as the preferred online video codec in the near future. Chrome users are still vast in numbers. Flash supports h.264 and as long as Flash is supported by Chrome my guess is that this will have very little effect. Add to this that there is still no hardware support for the codec anywhere and you start to get a bit annoyed.

    What’s the point?
    From a user’s perspective I see no benefits what so ever in WebM at the time being. And skipping h.264 support really helps noboby but only makes matters more complicated in terms of building html5 video solutions and forcing producers to transcode to multiple formats to ensure full penetration on all platforms.

    1. Joen says:

      Lars Harder,

      Lars, I generally agree with this. This was a pretty unnecessary move for Google. A stronger move would be to keep the H.264 support, but transcode/move YouTube to WebM.

      That’s why, consider my next comment in the context of distilling this charade into fun.

      What’s the point?

      See my most recent XKCD addition to this post.

  4. adam says:

    moving youtube to webM would definitely be a bigger move.
    however, where android devices have some room to include license fees, browsers are locked at a free pricepoint, that gives them no room. While the move _to_ webM is clearly for their own benefit, the move _away_ from h.264 is likely self-preservation.

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