Browser squabbles force W3C to drop codec requirements in HTML5

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image The latest revision to the code that makes up the entire Web is set to drop codec requirements that would set specific formats (codecs) on video and audio files that could allow people to distribute multimedia easier as browsers fight over which format should be the standard.

The main five browsers (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Safari and Opera) have not been able to agree on the specific format that all browsers will support, according to the editor of the new HTML5 specification Ian Hickson from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

“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,” Hickson wrote.

“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.”

The new tags – <audio> and <video> – have been included in the new specification after a change in the web landscape from text to visual content when HTML4 was written up. Before the new tags were introduced, people had to use third-party plug-ins, like Microsoft’s Silverlight and Adobe’s Flash, to play video and audio content, with Flash being the preferred standard to play the media files.

While it was suggested that the new codecs would be the Ogg Vorbis (audio) and the Ogg Theora (video) formats as they do not require royalty payments to use them, Apple has refused to support it as patents associated with Vorbis could be used against Apple when it implements it in some of their products.

For video, both Opera and Mozilla refused to make the H.264 video compression the standard as it does need to pay royalties to implement it in their products, but also distribution issues. Chrome does support both the Theora and H.264 formats, but also has a hard time on how to distribute it.

Microsoft, as the bane of all web standards, has not decided to make any commitment with the <video> tag, with Internet Explorer 8 not readily supporting HTML5, despite the newest versions of its rivals do support the latest rewrite to the HTML language.

However, Hickson concludes that it would take several years for this to develop, but sees both Theora and H.264 being both the “de facto codec” for all of Web video. Setting the standard for the <audio> tag, however, is dependent on mapping the common codecs used on all browsers, instead of proposing any at all.

But, it all depends on the browser makers to implement the codecs on their products. With the latest release of Mozilla 3.5, there is support for the <audio> and <video> tags using the Ogg Vorbis and Ogg Theora formats, along with some of the other HTML 5 tags.