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Video device convergence forces Skype to embrace H.264

Skype (opens in new tab) will support the H.264 format to be a player on converged devices ranging from connected TV sets to smart phones and tablet PCs.

Peter Parkes, Skype’s “blogger-in-chief,” wrote online that the change will enable Skype’s Apple iPhone users to chat with friends on TVs and other connected devices. The company is rapidly extending its reach beyond the PC and expanding the number of devices consumers can use its video chat service on.

Since early last year, Skype has been working to enable users to connect Web cams to Internet-connected TVs from manufacturers like Panasonic and Samsung, making the service available to users in their living rooms. At the same time, Skype has been aggressively positioning itself to dominate the mobile market, releasing an updated app that enables iPhone owners to use those devices’ forward-facing cameras to video chat with each other. The company is also aggressively hiring personnel to support other mobile platforms.

Skype’s decision to adopt H.264 was made because it has become the de facto codec for video delivery across a wide range of devices. Due to hardware acceleration built into low-powered devices such as TVs, Blu-ray players and mobile handsets, video publishers have increasingly turned to H.264 for video playback.

H.264 is arguably the best, or only, way to deliver video onto connected TVs and mobile devices. However, a battle is breaking out over the video format used by Web browsers for standards-based HTML5 video playback. While all modern browsers are working to support HTML5 and its video tag, which enables video playback without the need for a proprietary plug-in like Adobe’s Flash Player, browser makers are divided on which video format to support. Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 9 and Apple’s Safari browser have pledged support for H.264, but Google’s Chrome, Mozilla’s Firefox and Opera are backing Google’s open-source WebM format.

Because it’s a desktop application today, Skype doesn’t necessarily have to worry about the format war developing. However, if it plans to create embedded, standards-based video chat applications that run in the browser, it might eventually have to align itself with one format or choose to support both.