MPEG LA Frees H.264

DENVER: MPEG LA is extending the H.264 patent portfolio for free Internet video over the lifetime of the license. The organization previously extended such royalty-free use through the next licensing term, ending Dec. 31, 2015. It applies to online video that’s free to end users, e.g., YouTube’s video cybrary.

“Today’s announcement makes clear that royalties will continue not to be charged for such video beyond that time,” MPEG LA said. “Products and services other than Internet broadcast AVC video continue to be royalty-bearing.”

AVC/H.264 MPEG-4 Part 1, or more manageably, H.264, emerged as a predominant video codec on the momentum of MPEG-2’s adoption for American digital TV delivery. The codec is used by set-top boxes, media players, mobile devices, Blu-ray boxes and discs, game consoles and cameras.

However, the licensing scheme runs counter to the prevailing notion that Internet content should be free, particularly among open sourcers. Hence the rise of WebM VP8, an open source, royalty-free video codec from Google.

“Considering the traction that Google’s WebM codec has, this is probably a way for them to maintain some market share and, they hope, lay to rest talk about the potential that the codec could become pay-to-use in the future,” said Christopher Rick of ReelSEO. “By doing this they can probably maintain their presence in upcoming devices and applications and not have to worry about WebM replacing them in the HTML5 arena.”

HTML5 being the latest major revision of HTML, the underlying code for the Web.

Sabastian Anthony of Download Squad sees MPEG LA’s move as reactive to the rise of WebM:

“As it stands, both Firefox 4 and Opera 10.6 only support WebM for HTML5 video--with this licensing change, MPEG LA is obviously angling for H.264 support to find a place in both Firefox and Opera before their next stable release. Chrome, incidentally, supports both H.264 and WebM, and I expect it will continue to do so. IE9 supports H.264, but will include WebM support by the time it is released.”

MPEG LA is the licensing body for the MPEG video compression patent portfolios. Broadcast television remains under the fee structure of either $2,500 per H.264 encoder or an annual fee of $2,500 to $10,000, depending on the size of the market served. Online, pay-to-play videos 12 minutes or longer are either 2 percent of the retail price or 2 cents per title. Subscription sites pay up to $100,000 a year, depending on traffic.

The H.264 patent pool includes Apple, Cisco Systems, Daewoo, Dolby, Fujitsu, Hitachi, LG, Microsoft, Panasonic, Samsung and others.
-- Deborah D. McAdams


July 8, 2010:“Moscow Lab Compares H.264 and Google’s VP8”
The Graphics and Media Lab at Moscow State University recently released the results of its comparison of Google’s WebM VP8 codec with MPEG-4/H.264. VP8 is a royalty-free, open-source codec recently released by Google for compressing online video. H.264 encoders are fee-based.