Commentary: HTML5 Video—Must It Be Free?

"MP3 pricing gives us a glimpse into the strategy around H.264 licensing and what the landscape might look like 5 years from now, assuming H.264 were baked into the web platform as a requirement," Blizzard says.

And What About Open Source?
Other open source advocates are slightly more sanguine about the whole move away from plug-ins, echoing Steve Jobs comments about Flash being a memory hog on Apple's Safari.

"The reason why I like the native support," said one Slashdot poster, "is because Flash video spins my processor into 90% and turns my Macbook into a small personal heater. Not too bad in the winter, but sucks in the summer."

The comment was posted after Jan's excellent "Is Flash a CPU Hog?" article was slashdotted. I like Jan's assessment (which pointed out that the CPU issue is one that's native to Macs, not to Flash), but I'm also empathetic to the take of the open-source community, perhaps because I've seen consistently on my own Mac over the past three months that Flash Player chew up almost 90% of a CPU core's resources, even with the latest Safari and Flash Player builds. Or maybe I'm just sympathetic to Apple's whole sans-Flash-iPad stance, as some have jokingly accused, just because the iPad's launching on my 40th birthday.

Finally, the one missing piece in all of this is where Google's acquisition of On2 Technologies is leading in the HTML5 video debate. Without fully recapping the conjectures that I and others have written on the topic, I will say I'm more comfortable in my initial stance that it's not hard to believe that VP6 or VP7 would be open-sourced and used as royalty-free HTML5 video codecs, while Google maintains VP8 for its GoogleTalk and other bi-directional, low-latency video elements.

Given the abstraction layer possibilities for video codecs within HTML5, it is even more reasonable to believe Google will give the open-source community a more modern codec than Ogg Theora. Yet I also think VP8 will stay in house at Google, thanks to the device element being proposed for HTML5(+) inclusion.

Yes, the HTML5 draft now includes a line for device hardware abstraction.

"The device element represents a device selector, to allow the user to give the page access to a device, for example a video camera," the HTML5 draft specification (March 2010) states.

The device attribute would use keywords [fs, or file system, media, and rs232] allowing for control of a USB webcam, a USB-connected media player, and a serial port, respectively. This could create a very easy linkage between HTML5 and videoconferencing or video chat, for instance, without requiring additional drivers.

In the draft specification comments section, though, it's clear that the device element has more than a little inertia to overcome.

"RS-232 is only included below to give an idea of where we could go with this," the March HTML5 draft states. "Should we instead just make this only useful for audiovisual streams? Unless there are compelling reasons, we probably should not be this generic. So far, the reasons aren't that compelling."

It should be a fun few weeks as all of this gets wrapped up, packaged and spun with varying degrees of PR success.

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