HTML5: The only way we’re going to get standard media codecs

According to a recent article on Slashdot, any hope of getting media codecs added to the HTML5 standard is going down in flames.

HTML5 editor Ian Hickson stated on the WHATWG list (the dev list for HTML5) that

After an inordinate amount of discussions, both in public and privately, 
on the situation regarding codecs for <video> and <audio> in HTML5, I have 
reluctantly come to the conclusion that there is no suitable codec that 
all vendors are willing to implement and ship.

I have therefore removed the two subsections in the HTML5 spec in which 
codecs would have been required, and have instead left the matter 
undefined, as has in the past been done with other features like <img> and 
image formats, <embed> and plugin APIs, or Web fonts and font formats.

Well, frack. That really cracks my barnacles. (Yes, I’m trying to keep it PG here).

Opera, Mozilla, and Google are all on board with implementing support for the OggTheora and OggVorbis codecs, but unfortunately Apple and Microsoft are not. Actually, I should state that Opera, Mozilla, and Google already have support for these codecs in their repositories, and all three will have releases that support the codecs very soon.

So what do we do with Apple and Microsoft? According to Hickson, “Apple refuses to implement Ogg Theora in Quicktime… citing lack of hardware support and an uncertain patent landscape.” Microsoft, on the other hand, “has not commented on their intent to support at all.”

So here’s what we’re going to do. First, if Microsoft doesn’t want to bring Internet Explorer to the party, then I guess that’s their loss. We can use the idea behind Video For Everybody to support IE by falling back to Cortado to play the Ogg media. It’s not ideal, but it will work.

Now on to the Apples. First, right off the bat, I’m going to say that if you have an iPhone then you’re kind of hosed. More on that later. If you’re running Safari on OSX then you’re so incredibly close to being able to play Ogg Formats. Safari supports the <video> tag, so all you have to do is download and install the XiphQT components.

About the iPhones. Unless you jailbreak the thing, it’s a locked-down, turn-around, say your prayers to Jobs kind of platform. I hope a method of getting the Ogg codecs on to the iPhone surfaces, but if it doesn’t then you’re going to be stuck. If you’re just a hapless user, I’m sincerely sorry; if you’re a geek, then you know that you really should have known better. Either way, please, PLEASE start reading up on software freedom. I personally think it’s important and hope that after having this experience you will understand why it’s important, too.

The biggest thing we can do right now is to get widespread support in modern browsers to support the video tag + ogg formats. Here’s how:

If you have a Mac or know someone with a Mac:
Install Firefox
Use Safari and install the XiphQT components.

If you are running MS-Windows:
Install Firefox. (IE is rather hopeless at this point)

If you’re running GNU/Linux system:
You’re probably already using a Free browser and have support for Ogg Theora and Ogg Vorbis. If not, install Firefox using your package manager.

Giving people a browser that supports the video tag and Free/Open Standards is fast to do, it’s easy to explain to people why they should install the support, and it’s easy to test the browser once you’ve finished the install — just try out the test video here. Each Mac that has OggTheora/OggVorbis support makes us that much closer to having a true standard for codecs in HTML.

Will this actually get the Ogg codecs placed back into the HTML5 spec? Probably not. But it’s the best chance we have right now of ensuring that there are standard audio/video codecs in the next version of HTML.

Let’s get started!



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