This is a response to John Dowdell’s Put down the Flavorade and slowly back away…. post, which is itself a reply to Tristan Nitot’s Making video a first class citizen of the Web. Here it is, starting with a quote from John Dowdell’s post:
I don’t appreciate how Tristan avers menacingly to “proprietary plugins” and “patented codecs” without ever making a strong, sensible case. It’s fear-mongering. It’s unnecessary. Beneath his rap is the assumption “Ogg Theora (aka On2 VP3) will solve all needs”, and that blanket assertion still needs a strong defense. You can’t say “patented codecs are bad” without addressing why the world prefers modern codec technology. It’s religious gaming, not technical discussion.
It’s unfortunate that Tristan didn’t describe the problems with proprietary codecs. Fortunately, I’ve already compiled such a list. It’s the “Problems with patented codecs” section of The codec dilemma. For reference, I will reprint the list of problems with patented codecs here:
- Consumers and distributors have to pay for patented codecs in order to use them.
- It is difficult to know whether a particular audio or video file you have will work with someone else’s computer or device. They may not have the same codecs as you or they may not have any patented codecs at all.
- If a software developer chooses to write his or her own software that can read a codec such as MP3, that person could not give that software away for free even if they wanted to because they have to pay the patent holder.
- If a person chooses not to purchase an operating system such as Windows or Mac OS that includes patented codecs, but instead downloads a free operating system such as Ubuntu, they cannot view any content using patented codecs unless they obtain the codecs illegally or purchase them through software such as Fluendo Complete Playback Pack, which can be prohibitively expensive.
- Related to the above point, if a company is designing a new product but wants to keep costs as low as possible and also provide entirely redistributable software to its users, it cannot include any patented codecs. This is an issue for projects such as One Laptop per Child. For more information see their page on restricted formats and standards for software freedom.
With these problems in mind, there is one advantage that proprietary codecs might currently have over royalty-free codecs. They are more well-supported by the dominant operating systems, video editing tools, Adobe Flash Player, and some hardware. This is perhaps why, as John Dowdell says, the “world prefers modern” (he means “proprietary”) “codec technology”: installed user base. Fortunately, the situation is changing. Mozilla will soon distribute Theora support to millions of users (in Firefox 3.5), which will make Theora a much more compelling platform for video.
From what I can tell, you can virtually always replace a proprietary codec with one of Theora or Dirac and get comparable size and video quality. This is why I believe we can start the transition away from proprietary codecs right now. If you believe that royalty-free codecs are inferior to proprietary codecs on a technical level, please provide some information to support that.
Adobe should add royalty-free codecs, such as Theora and Dirac, to Flash Player and their Flash creation tools. This would be very beneficial for both Adobe and the general public. Adobe could gradually migrate developers away from proprietary codecs, eventually allowing Adobe to drop proprietary codecs from Flash Player altogether, eliminating the licensing fees Adobe has to pay. The general public would benefit through lower costs on consumer electronics and video tools, whose price would no longer include a proprietary codec royalty.
I can’t see a reason why Adobe wouldn’t include royalty-free codecs. When will these be added to Flash Player? If they won’t be, why not?