WebM? VP8? What the hell is going on!?

Chances are that if you have not heard of WebM by now, you likely know that Google had plans to buy On2, or that speculators hoped Google would release Theora’s younger brother, On2’s VP8, to the public. And, what you know, that’s exactly what happened.

Google united most of the industry around this plan and the result is WebM, a royalty-free, BSD-licensed mixture of the Vorbis audio and VP8 video codecs on a modified Matroska container. For the discernible user, it tastes raw with a hint of spiciness, and you soon realize you haven’t tasted anything like it before.

In a surprising turn of events, the whole industry (barring Apple, but they don’t count anyway) embraced the newcomer, apparently solving the whole video on the web debacle that’s been going on in the last years. So, expect browser and even hardware support coming really soon.

Of course this is all new and the paint’s still not exactly dry. Documentation is a mess, encoder quality is terribly optimized, and there’s a whole lot of work ahead for those involved, but all things considered? This is likely the best outcome possible. Even Adobe, in an (what I assume) attempt to screw Apple for the whole “die Flash, die” chapter, sided with WebM and will support it in Flash.

By the way, while we are ahead, shouldn’t we try addressing the FUD certain people of the h264 faction are already spreading? Certainly. Less glamorous comments by those who should know better must always be addressed before they spread like an infection. Did you know some people still take that silly claim of “Youtube in Theora would take all of the Internet’s bandwidth” seriously? Why yes, some people not only believe that but will always take a moment of their monotonous day to quote it during Internet discussion.

Some people also believe in a Flying Spaghetti Monster.

But where was I? Oh, right. I was debunking the commentary from a certain developer without any knowledge of software patents who decided he knew better than On2 when it came to waltz around MPEG-LA’s patent pool and now claims VP8 must surely be infringing on something or another. Or rather, in a Glenn Beck logical fallacy: “I’m not saying it does, but it didn’t prove me wrong either”.

He then went on to compare years of h264 optimizations against the upstart and surprisingly, considering how unbiased someone whose livelihood depends on nothing replacing h264, came out in favor of the establishment. He forgets, however, that Google has enough money to buy whole countries hire all the engineers they could possibly want to improve VP8’s encoder quality in record time.

Anyhow, WebM’s adoption of Vorbis, just as this one introduced drastic surround optimizations in its code base a couple of months ago, is a great sign of trust in Xiph’s work. But, what does it mean for Theora now that it has apparently been left out of the Web Video Wars? A good question, but with a simple answer: the Theora community will likely find more niches that Theora can tap. Considering Theora is the most lightweight video format of all the modern offerings that’s a no-brainer.

And the Ogg container? Now with the recent addition of an index to improve seeking in corner cases, nothing much is stopping it from being employed in more and more situations where a container as malleable as Ogg is needed.

“Let’s Get Video on Wikipedia” campaign is a-go

Three non-profits have gathered together to launch the Let’s Get Video on Wikipedia website. The goal here is to aid people learn how to create multimedia content for the largest (and neatest) encyclopedia in the world.

If you like Wikipedia, got a handy camera and some imagination on what to capture on film, go give them a hand.

If you haven’t heard the big news…

Through Wikimedia Foundation, Mozilla has awarded a grant of $100,000 for the continuing development of Theora and associated tools. This is a clear sign that things are finally changing. Sure, we are not the top tier, but we are no longer the underdog either.

If you are one of the volunteers that is converting as much content as possible to Theora and Vorbis, do carry on. Your efforts will not be wasted.

Introducing Ogg Kate, the next generation subtitle format

In a time when free formats are finally gaining some terrain over their counterparts, there was a niche in Ogg that had not been properly tapped yet: captioning.

Well, sure, those who have been paying attention to the last few years may have heard of attempts like CMML or the vaporware Writ. You might even have heard of the SRT mapping. But I would say that none of them cover today’s needs when it comes to a simple format that does subtitles, lyrics and even Karaoke with all the neat stuff subbers — or caption authors, if you will — expect; from basic text to complex animations; from simples notes in English to entire books in Sanskrit or Chinese. To paraphrase the cliché, it’s only limited by your imagination, and even that I’m unsure of as the format is extendable.

But in an article where we introduce Kate it wouldn’t make sense to just stop there, would it? Sure, Unicode is good. Sure, extensibility with backward- and forward-compatibility is good, but what about the REALLY neat features? Mayhap streamability? MPEG-4 Part 17 has that and nobody uses it for that feature alone. A simple syntax, then? Certainly. Not having one was what killed USF.

Hm, you want more? Why, such a demanding audience we have today. Well, imagine this: you downloaded a large film in a foreign language — say, Korean — and Kate subtitles are available in your language, but turns out those aren’t complete yet. Fast-forward some days and, what you know, there’s been an update! Finally you can watch the whole thing — it just sucks that you’ll have to download the entire file again. Right? Nah. Just get the Kate script and use an application to merge it with the film you already have. You can go as far as leave the two versions in to compare them while playing. And in an age of wiki collaboration, what stops you and your friends from botching improving the script?

But let’s leave the snarkiness aside for a bit. If you want a free format for captioning you’ll find Kate good enough for all your needs, and with Ogg’s multiplexing you can in one file add a simple transcript of a Speex track, which you had there in the first place for the blind, then add a translation caption of the original dialog (for the people who don’t speak French or Japanese or whatever) and finally add a copy of that one but with pretty colors and animations for those who would rather have that.

“Ah”, but you say, “there’s a catch somewhere, innit? I’m pretty sure no applications work with Kate.”

I’d say it’s a fair point, but considering Kate just started this year, we already have playback support in VLC and Cortado, with output available from vorbis-tools and ffmpeg2theora, plus a bunch of patches to more software than you can count with your two hands just waiting for the developers to commit them, I think we have a solid base here.

The future looks bright. Help us make it so.

Oh, and happy new year!

Theora 1.0 is out!

The final release of everyone’s favorite video format is finally here, and though Xiph tried to postpone it as long as possible in solidarity with Duke Nukem Forever (which is taking forever, by the way), the desperate cries of our many fans plus long hours at night ironing out bugs have converged into the most stable and rock-solid version of any video format out there. I kid you not.

Now, if you are wondering why words like “stable” and “mature” keep popping up around this release that’s because it was the order of the day. The priority in 1.0 was making sure Theora was not an interesting experiment but a powerful tool in daily life, ready for any situation were reliability takes precedence. As many have come to learn, Theora is incredibly portable, vastly documented and fast even in slow processors.

But Ivo, you say, what about those awesome quality improvements? Well, that will have to wait for Theora 1.1 as the new encoder is currently not as mature as the one in 1.0, but the good news is that you can already start using it. Download this enconder binary and have fun with it.

German Spread Open Media is now available

Thanks to zazengate, we now unleash upon the world the German counterpart of SOM. You too can help make SOM available in your language. Contact us if you’d like to help out.

That’s all.

What, were you perhaps expecting me to speak some German? Rosenthalerstrasse. Brustwartzen. Liebling! Go spread some files, you lazy bum.

New campaigns!

Finally, time for new campaigns. We present you Operation Transcode and Share the Funnies!

These two campaigns do not focus on the SOM project itself, but on the actual pratice of spreading Open Media. Getting more files out there is a top priority, and if you want to join the effort (why wouldn’t you) these are the campaigns for you.

Free Formats vs. Open Formats

If you are a loyal reader, you may have noticed that we never use the word “open” near “formats”. Yeah, what’s the story behind that, you ask. Well, we’ll dive into the subject in just a moment, but since I’m known for doing (strange) comparisons while presenting an argument, let’s go ahead and think of a door.

It is open; you can go in and out any time you want, right? Right. Until someone steps in, claims the door as his and tells you you have to pay to get in. Oh, and he (and everyone else) still considers the door open, because you can see what’s on the other side. See, open door, open formats! How could you think of it any other way?

Yeah. So, you probably know some open formats already: MP3, OOXML, Xvid, H.264 and the rest of the MPEG-4 mess. Why are they considered open? Because their specification is, in fact, open, which means you can implement it anywhere you want… if you pay to cross the door. Well, I guess you can’t implement it afer all.

If freedom is catchy, as some people claim, then free formats would have taken over by now, wouldn’t they? I too wish it was that simple. Until recently, there wasn’t an exact distinction between open and free formats, but such distinction is becoming more and more clear. It’s got to the point where the big corps are attacking free formats to protect their investments in the open ones.

As soon as word got out that Theora would be the baseline video codec of HTML 5, a Nokia representative came out of nowhere and vaguely suggested that a submarine patent may be there somewhere. Neither he or Nokia have expanded on this, nor will they. The damage was already done, and Nokia’s investments in 3GPP technology were not wasted. They hadn’t paid all that money in licenses, hardware optimizations and research to make MPEG-4 work on cellphones just to let an upstart that everyone else could implement win the race. No way, ese!

And you likely already know about the whole OOXML debacle. How Microsoft got so afraid of OpenDocument (ODF) that they invested millions and millions on a 6000 page pile of — let’s face it — crap. Pure, pointless crap. To beat another office format. And they bribed every ISO jurisdiction they could. To beat another office format. Because it would mean everyone would use a single format and make Microsoft’s office suite obsolete. No way, ese!

This isn’t anymore about closed vs. open formats, and you don’t need me to rub it in your face. It’s time to leave those non-free formats behind and look forward for a world of interoperability, a world of doors free to trespass in whatever way you want, and where no one will be able to take that freedom away from anyone else.

tl;dr version: Just because something calls itself an open standard, it doesn’t mean it should be trusted. Good standards are free standards, too.

Xiph Summer of Code

Are you a student? Have you always wanted to make a difference in the world? Know C or PHP? Want to build a powerful resume? Then look no further! The Xiph.Org Foundation is participating in Google Summer of Code 2008, and you can join one of our projects.

For the SOM enthusiasts, don’t forget to check out the SHARE proposal. It will be a playlist sharing web application for our community, a simple but efficient way to have everyone share Open Media.

Less talk, more action!

MailOgging: keep on Ogging!

SOM is about Open Media: being confident you will always have access to the information that matters to you. Whether that’s your favourite song, your holiday pictures, your diary or that embarrassing karaoke video, we think you should be able to use it wherever you take it. However, technology changes and is not subject to someone else’s whim. The good news is that the technology is already here and it’s available to everyone!

But this isn’t enough: for Open Media to work it needs to be there before you are and, no matter how good the technology is, we can’t do that without your help. How can you help? By choosing products that support free formats (many do, for instance the ever increasing number of music players supporting Vorbis), and by asking for products that support them. This is what the MailOgging project is for: pick a product which you wish supported free formats and ask for it, politely.

My current hobby is asking for Vorbis and FLAC from online music stores. Some independent sources, such as Pandora records and Creative Commons, have been supplying Vorbis for a long time, but big name stores are only beginning to realise that their customers hate DRM. This is the perfect time to ask them to provide free formats; see this letter to Play.com for ideas. Vorbis on the iTunes store? Maybe, if you keep on Ogging.