Google’s $106.5 million acquisition of video technology maker On2 Technologies today could signal that it intends to make technology freely available for the next version of HTML, someday eliminating the need for plug-ins such as Flash for video playback on the Web.
On2 Technologies is best known for its VP7 and VP8 video codecs. The codecs could be used to enable seamless video playback within HTML 5 compatible Web browsers such as Google Chrome, Internet Explorer 8, Firefox 3.5, Opera, and Safari.
HTML 5 is an upcoming version of the HTML standard that has support for audio, graphics and video, as well as interactive document editing. It is incomplete, and has been implemented in browsers in a piecemeal fashion.
HTML is the lingua franca of the Web, but the Web had changed a great deal since HTML 4 was published in December 1997. Industry powerhouses have been plugging away at the HTML 5 draft specification ever since.
The scope of the next-generation Web protocol is very ambitious, and not surprisingly, it has not been without controversy. HTML 5 includes a video element to enable playback without requiring any additional plug-ins or software, and the HTML 5 working group has been split over what uniform video codec should be used.
The working group’s inability to move beyond the impasse has threatened the inclusion of the video element in HTML 5. One camp (that includes Apple and Google) has supported H.264, a codec that requires implementers to pay patent licensing royalties. Others, including Mozilla and Opera, favor Ogg Theora, an open source solution.
Google has already incorporated elements of HTML 5 into its Chrome Web browser, and has begun to utilize it in its Web applications. It has also been experimenting with an HTML 5 edition of YoutTube—sans Flash.
“Today video is an essential part of the Web experience, and we believe high-quality video compression technology should be a part of the Web platform,” said Sundar Pichai, vice president of product management at Google, in a prepared statement. “We are committed to innovation in video quality on the Web, and we believe that On2’s team and technology will help us further that goal.”
HTML is obviously a part of the company’s long term technology plan, and ushering it along by releasing the On2 codecs into the public domain would be compatible with that goal.