Some thoughts on Google Chrome removing support for H.264 video playback

I have to say, this makes very little sense. It is the Chrome team’s prerogative to add or remove any feature from their browser that they’d like to but the reasons they’ve given simply do not make much sense. At least not from my desk or the desk’s of others.

John Gruber, as he typically does, does a good job asking the same questions as I would. So I recommend giving his questions to Google a perusal.

However, I’d like to comment his 3rd question to Google. When WebM was announced in May of last year it was said that YouTube would immediately begin to encode their videos in WebM. And, according to YouTube’s HTML5 page, they did exactly that. So part of John’s question is answered. But the other parts – whether or not YouTube will drop support for H.264 or not, and why – remind unanswered so far.

My biggest “huh?” to all of this is Google’s “to foster competition” and “web innovation” statements as to why they are doing this. Gruber is asking why the Flash Player plugin isn’t being removed from being bundled with Google Chrome. I’m wondering how removing support for H.264 video playback is “fostering competition” at all. Isn’t it squashing it?

Think about where the competition really happens for video codecs. Users of the Internet will never decide on a codec. They don’t care. Developers and engineers do. Apple will decide what they will support with their devices, Google with theirs, RIM with theirs, HP, Dell, Toshiba with theirs. My mother could care less if a video is in Flash, H.264, WebM, Theora or any other video codec – she would simply want to view the video and would probably download any software it would take for her to be able to watch it. Do you think she really knows that when she goes to the YouTube application on her iPod Touch that the video that is being delivered is in H.264?

So really, the “competition” doesn’t happen at the user level. It happens at the engineering level. Engineers will pit two codecs against each other and see how they stack up. They’ll decide which to use based on the quality of the codec and then they’ll measure that against the install base for that codec. Right now H.264 is comparable on nearly every level to WebM while the install base for H.264 is enormous in comparison to WebM. So the decision is still pretty clear which codec most engineers would choose for video playback. Unless they are open source zealots that think Apple’s approach to things like H.264, iOS and the App Stores is “closed”.

Now, if Adobe removed H.264 playback from the Flash Player – that’d make some waves. That’d change the game a bit.

All of this being said I really don’t care. Even as a team member for Viddler, a company that has millions of videos thatwe take care of, I don’t mind allowing the industry to figure some of these things out. I side with the end users and so does Viddler. Viddler will always strive to deliver high-quality video to users the way that the majority of them want it regardless of their device. As of today an overwhelming number of the Internet-connected computers in the world support H.264 playback via Flash Player. So we deliver that. The next step down is H.264 playback via the