IE9 gets H.264 and WebM support

Microsoft’s attempt at clawing back some of the browser market?

MICROSOFT’S INTERNET EXPLORER web browser have been losing a lot of ground to its competitors for quite some time now, but IE9 has gained some favourable press and it seems like Microsoft is willing to add some features to make its browser more appealing. According to an MSDN blog post Microsoft has released details about future video support in IE9 and it might very well be the browser with the widest native video support when it goes out of beta.

Microsoft will not only offer native H.264 support, a format that Google recently decided to drop from its native support list for Chrome in favour of its own WebM video format. However, Microsoft has also decided to add support for WebM in IE9, although it will require a third party codec to be installed, as Windows lacks native WebM video support. On top of that, Microsoft will also offer plugins for both Firefox and Chrome that adds support for H.264 video.

The blog post goes on to bashing Google a little bit (ok, quite a lot) about its dropped H.264 support and we’re actually with Microsoft on this one, as H.264 has become a widely adopted standard, least not among consumer camcorders and digital cameras with HD video recording support. As such there’s very little that the consumer has to do to in terms of re-jigging their videos to make them play natively in a web environment. Of course, video sites like YouTube and several others re-encode the video you upload to Flash, but this is likely to change once HTML5 takes off big time.

By using a single standard that is already widely adopted by the market, life would be easier for consumers, as they’d have one less thing to worry about. As consumers don’t have to pay any royalties for H.264 video, there’s really very little concern as to why this format shouldn’t be used. That said, we’d like to see an open and totally free format replace H.264 in the long term, but WebM just doesn’t seem to be a likely candidate here. One problem is that the H.264 codec isn’t just one standard, but the most prominent one in consumer devices is the AVCHD standard which all of the big brand name camcorder makers rely on. However, there are many other variations on the H.264 standard and for example camcorders from Samsung and Sanyo use a different H.264 codec that’s not part of the AVCHD standard.

WebM is never likely to appear in any consumer devices apart from maybe some Android phones and tablets and as such it’s not going to gain enough traction. On top of that, it’s a standard controlled and developed by Google which means it’s not truly open or open source. There’s no simple solution as these days there are so many patents involving digital video that unless someone starts from scratch and does things in an entirely different way than it’s done today, it would be impossible to offer a totally open standard. Even if such a standard would be possible, it would require to be implemented as a standard codec in all consumer devices before it would gain any traction and judging by the way the camcorder and camera makers operate, there’s no interest in an open standard replacing the current proprietary solutions already in the market.

Microsoft does of course have some ulterior motives here, as the company likes to give Google a bashing for not being”open”, especially after Google’s comments about Microsoft’s lack of openness in the past. Then again, neither company is in the business to play nice, despite what they might say, as it’s all about money and how much if it that the two giants can make. Still, as a consumer, it would be a sight for sore eyes to only once see these companies pull the same way, but that seems like a dream that will never be realized.S|A

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