The next Web media format

W3C has mandated OGG Vorbis/Theora as the next multimedia standard. It is encouraging seeing the organization picking open formats that shun the usage of DRM (forget that Nokia wrongly called OGG ‘proprietary’).

Apple and Nokia are completely right fighting for h.264/AAC instead of Vorbis/Theora though. H.264 is a much more mature format, it has been designed to work perfectly with AAC, and a good encoder implementation of it provides a much better quality than any Vorbis/Theora encoder. Technically speaking, W3C did the wrong decision here. Theora does not work well not even on open source players that have added support for it years ago. Download any Theora file you want and try to play it back, and at some point try to click at another point in the timeline, and chances are that you will be greeted with screen artifacts until the video re-syncs. And if that was not all, the Theora developers had to go around patents and use less efficient algorithms (by their own admission). Sorry, but this is not the kind of experience the market wants. There is an opportunity to now choose the best damn delivery format available today, and that’s h.264, not Theora.

I am obviously a proponent of h.264, although I would have preferred it coupled with WMA instead of AAC. Generally speaking, WMA is able to deliver better quality at low bitrates (best for web usage), mp3 is better at medium bitrates and AAC at high bitrates. But given the fact that h.264/WMA is a pipe dream that Microsoft would never agree to, h.264/AAC is where it’s at.

Now, the whole juice of the situation is just this: would you prefer a F/free but lower quality solution, or a higher quality but proprietary one? The open source advocates would go with the Free solution even if it will piss them off every other minute when using it. The companies and the general public would go with the best solution though, even if they have to put money on the table to license it (the consumer will end up paying for it anyway). I am personally a hard and harsh realist, so I only use the best tool for the job. I don’t want to get angry at software more than I already am. And most people are just like that too.

In other words, would you buy the cheapest shampoo on the market if you knew that it doesn’t completely take the grease out of your hair? Sure you would — if you were only making $5-$10 per day. Like how much the people in the third world countries make. Which is why Linux is so popular there. Because it makes economic sense according to their budget. But the rest of the world doesn’t have to use the same solution. The rest of the world can afford the extra $2 to get a better shampoo/solution. Is it unfair? Maybe, but that’s how it is. Of course, the more expensive shampoo is not always for the best interest of its user. It has been observed to create skin cancer in some situations (DRM). But the chance is small, the market find it an acceptable risk and they go with it, because it makes curly hair look fabulous. It’s the prerogative to live dangerously because the immediate result plays a bigger role to their life. Are they blind consumers who risk their lives over curly hair and don’t think enough of their families and the people they can hurt if they die? Maybe. But so is that guy.


karl dubost, W3C wrote on December 9th, 2007 at 5:15 PM PST:


You said: “W3C has mandated OGG Vorbis/Theora as the next multimedia standard.”

So far, Ogg Vorbis is mentionned in a Working Draft of SMIL 3.0, and in a previous Working Draft of Full SVG 1.2 as possible requirements. It is also mentionned as a SHOULD in an editor’s draft of HTML 5.

To the best of my knowledge, there are no W3C recommendations mandating Ogg Vorbis so far. It is still a topic in discussion.


This is the admin speaking...
Eugenia wrote on December 9th, 2007 at 5:18 PM PST:

Good to hear, hopefully you will come to your senses and pick the right format. 😉

Make no mistake, I favor an open source, royalty/patent-free solution over h.264, but not without some hard core engineering behind the two OGG formats to perfect them. When these can compete in equal terms, I have no problem supporting them.

edogawaconan wrote on December 9th, 2007 at 7:43 PM PST:

Ogg Vorbis is pretty good at most bitrates, except when it comes to multi-channel audio.
Ogg Theora… they have to make it better before thinking about supporting it. 😉
h264+vorbis in mkv might be better… :p

thebluesgnr wrote on December 9th, 2007 at 7:51 PM PST:

You still seem to not know the difference between Open Source and Free Software. This time, you’re throwing open standards to the same mix as well.

Your rant wouldn’t be such a frustrating read if you cared to understand the basic concepts of what you’re talking about.

This is the admin speaking...
Eugenia wrote on December 9th, 2007 at 8:06 PM PST:

I know very well what I am talking about. The difference between OSS and Free is not relevant in this specific context.

Adam S wrote on December 10th, 2007 at 4:25 AM PST:

People don’t want lower quality content on principal. They want it because much smarter people realize that a formal recommendation of a format that is designed with DRM in mind is eventually going to strap down the entire knowledgebase of this f’ed up world where IP is a possession.

Ultimately, people want things that work, but I think even moreso, people want to control their own media. I know several people who have files they copied from their old computer to their new one that won’t play anymore. If they had the choice to have always had them in a lesser performing format, but not lose them, they would’ve jumped at the chance. Formats should not be bound to a computer, and to suggest that this is the world, live in it or against it, is no better than folding your principals. This is not final yet.

DRM is not about convenience. It’s about who ultimately owns your media. I cannot endorse a group who suggests that everything digital is only “licensed” by you, and if you can, it just goes to show you don’t get the people who argue against DRM.

memsom wrote on December 10th, 2007 at 4:30 AM PST:

Surely a “free” solution is one that costs little or no money, and an “Open Source” one is one that has sourcecode available. Don’t a number of free Open Sourced encoders support h.264, even if not to your high standards? For web use, they support it well enough I would have thought (as high definition video is not going to be useful on the net any time soon.)

As for Free (as in FSF/Stallman) I doubt there is much that can be done for h.264 really, and so you are correct here.

I think this is what “thebluesgnr” means, and yes it would be relevant on that level. “Free”, no. “Open Source”, yes. “free” (as in no cost), well – yes. Legalities of the implementations aside, they exist and work.

Richard wrote on December 10th, 2007 at 9:29 AM PST:

Royalities per sold unit might have been a good idea in times where technology was tied to devices, but well, today video codecs are implemented in software, so this “We want Royalities”-Attitude screws everyone.

In the case of Open Source/Free Software Codecs, who should pay the royalities, seriously:

#1: Someone codes a h264 implementation in his free time, and puts it on the internet: No money changend hands, where to get royalities?

#2: Someone downlods “free” h264 implementation from internet and installs it: No money changed hands, where to get royalities?

#3: Someone encodes a video with “free” h264 implementation and puts it on the internet for free: No money changed hands, where to get royalities?

#4: Someone downloads free video and “free” codec from internet, and views it. No money changed hands, where to get royalities?

Charging royalites for codecs is pure evil and immoral in my opinion.

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