Google continues WebM head fake

Google continues its masterful head fake campaign promoting its WebM VP8 video compression technology over the H.264/MPEG 4 AVC standard by telling the world that all of its YouTube videos are now being served in WebM format.  As I’ve reported earlier, Google is only killing Chrome HTML5 support for H.264 to harm Apple but they will continue to fully support H.264 in Chrome using the Adobe Flash or Microsoft Silverlight plugins, and they will fully support H.264 in their flagship products such as YouTube and Android OS.

But the blogosphere is abuzz that YouTube has now converted to the WebM format while glossing over the fact that YouTube still defaults to the H.264 format and only serves up WebM if the user explicitly opts into HTML5 mode.  This 7 second clip I just uploaded an hour ago defaulted to H.264 mode even though I tested it through Mozilla Firefox.  This is ironic because Mozilla publicly refused to support the ITU H.264 ISO MPEG-4 AVC standard due to its licensing requirements and promised WebM VP8 support instead because WebM purports to be unencumbered by patents.  Microsoft added H.264 support back into Mozilla Firefox as well as Google Chrome which saved Mozilla and Google from having to pay the H.264 licensing fee.

Given the complexity of of video compression technology and the thousands of individual patents that make up the H.264/MPEG-4 AVC standards, the odds of zero overlap between VP8 and H.264 is questionable.  A video compression expert noted the uncanny similarity between the technology used in VP8 and H.264 as well as the technical superiority of H.264.  More importantly, the higher quality (due to reasons such as codec maturity) of H.264 allows substantial monetary savings in storage, compute power, and network capacity which vastly offsets the licensing cost of H.264.  This is why literally billions of devices like cameras, set top boxes like the Roku, video game consoles, Blu-Ray players, and personal computers have H.264 baked into their hardware but don’t support WebM VP8.

Google’s latest move means the vast majority of YouTube visitors on desktop and notebook computers will continue to see H.264, but it is another slap against Apple and Apple customers.  The largest HTML5 user base in the world (roughly 100 million strong) is Apple iOS devices like the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad which only support H.264 and not WebM.  The result is that Google Android devices which will soon support Adobe Flash will enjoy H.264 support while Apple devices get inferior support because they don’t support Flash or WebM VP8.