H.264 Now Royalty-Free for all Eternity With a Catch; HTML5 Video Situation Still a Mess [Updated]

The battle for the future of Web video has been nothing if not confusing, and it isn't over yet. MPEG LA, the industry group responsible for various audio and video formats, announced that it'll keep H.264 video royalty-free--for online video that is free to end-users, anyway.

That's the good news. The bad news? Nothing's settled just yet.

For those of you just tuning in...

Previously, MPEG LA pledged that it would keep H.264 video royalty-free through the end of 2015. This had led some to express concern that MPEG LA would start charging royalties for H.264 Web video after 2015.

With Firefox 3.5 and later, Mozilla adopted the open-source Ogg Theora video format, citing its open, royalty-free nature. Meanwhile, earlier this year, Google announced its WebM video format, pitched it as a possible solution to the HTML5 video problem, and touted widespread support for the new standard. But that potential solution itself may have had a problem: WebM may have infringed on some H.264 patents.

While MPEG LA's announcement may make it easier for H.264 to be adopted as the standard format for HTML5 video, nothing is guaranteed yet. There are still three viable video formats out there for the choosing, and the HTML5 standard isn't expected to be finalized until 2022. Seriously.

Update: Mike Shaver, Mozilla's Vice President of Engineering, commented on MPEG LA's decision:

"The MPEG-LA announcement doesn't change anything for the next four years, since this promise was already made through 2014. Given that IEC has already started accepting submissions for patents in the replacement H.265 standard, and the rise of unencumbered formats like WebM, it is not clear if H.264 will still be relevant in 2014."

Has MPEG LA just won the HTML5 video war? Or is is just beginning? Leave a comment with your thoughts below.

[Business Wire via Daring Fireball]

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