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Why would Google Chrome remove H.264 video support?

The Google Chrome web browser project recently divulged that they plan to drop support of the H.264 video codec.  It’s left the web/computing industry scratching its head.  Google is getting a firestorm of responses back on this, and deservedly so.

Why would Google make such a move like this?  H.264 “is the standard” for playing and encoding video.  H.264 is open and is royalty free for users.  MPEG LA has even recently stated here that it “will continue not to charge royalties for Internet Video that is free to end users.” The good folks at MacRumors.com as have journaled it here also.

This move by Google is perplexing to many and appears to be inconsistent with the mission for open standards they seek.  What’s confusing is that they are continuing to allow Adobe Flash as a standard.  As you know Adobe Flash is essentially a vendor locked solution to one vendor (Adobe).  H.264 is now an open standard, not something that Apple owns.  Yes,  Apple has a vested stake in H.264, and has basically worked to drive this to the standards base, but H.264 has essentially become the best ubiquitous video standard we have today.  Its used in almost everything we use today to play back video.

As a result of Apples efforts and the standards bodies,  we now have a free standard that is common to mobile phones, PCs, Macs, and game consoles.  Oh and don’t forget your AppleTV’s, BoxeeBox, and GoogleTV devices.  Most of these devices have hardware decoding chips built-in to boost HD video performance.  WebM is going to have to rely on software decoding, probably for a long, long time.   As you know, hardware decoding of video is far faster than software decoding.  WebM on these devices using software decoding will likely result in choppy and slow playback.  Basically I can’t see many companies getting on-board with WebM, just for the previous commitment to H.264 as the standard.

Google is claiming that they want a truly open web standards focus going into their web browser.  The claim is that WebM and Theora are the defacto standard for open web video.    From early reports on WebM, is it isn’t close to coming to the capabilities of H.264.

Is Google taking a swing at Apple or is this something else?  What are your thoughts on Google’s decision?  Do you agree or disagree?  Feel free to share them here them in the comments section.

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