There’s beginning to be some interesting commentary on the purchase of video codec company On2 by Google, see here, here and here. Much of the speculation understandably has to do with what this will mean for Google’s future with video, either via YouTube or in the Chrome browser and eventually OS. Within the specs for HTML 5 there is a push towards a simpler, more open video standard, with the open source Ogg Theora already getting some official support. Since On2’s earlier VP3.2 is the basis for Ogg Theora, some believe by purchasing On2, Google is likely looking to take their much more advanced VP7 and VP8 codecs open source and possibly license-free. Such a move would provide HTML 5 with very advanced video technology for free, and would create serious competition for other current codecs and/or platforms such as h.264, Flash, Silverlight, etc., while at the same time giving Google another point of real strength in future internet developments.
One question that I have yet to see answered sufficiently is how empowered Google would actually be to make such an aggressive move in regards to video technology. On2 claims that VP8 and their earlier technologies are completely patent free, unlike other video codecs like H.264 that have very complicated patent claims handled currently by the MPEG-LA licensing body. Even though there are excellent open source versions of h.264 encoders, such as x264, users still have take care of licensing with MPEG-LA. If Google could actually release VP8 technology as open source, or even if just royalty-free, codec, that would be a major disruption of the current video landscape and the future plans of many competing companies, including Adobe, Microsoft, Apple and DivX (full disclosure, I am a DivX stockholder). There have, however, been some rumblings about just how patent protected On2’s codecs really are. I don’t know enough to comment, other than to say that patents and video technology can be very, very complicated and messy. In any case, there will certainly be much investigation and discussion around these issues before we see any major shifts from Google based on their purchase of 0n2.
Catch more of Bruce’s digital media musings over at Digitalwerks.