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VP8 Codec Coming To FFmpeg 218

Posted by kdawson
from the small-fast dept.
Jim Buzbee writes "Interested in Google's VP8 codec? Well, so were the FFmpeg guys, so they went ahead and wrote their own native decoder in only 1,400 lines of unique code. They were able to keep the line-count low by relying on heavy reuse from the existing H.264 codebase."
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VP8 Codec Coming To FFmpeg

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  • Re:Good idea? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 28, 2010 @08:15AM (#32715124)

    No, it's better to hide it and hope the problem goes away.

  • codec? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by quenda (644621) on Monday June 28, 2010 @08:16AM (#32715132)

    and wrote their own native decoder

    It sounds like more of a dec than a codec.

  • Re:Hmmm... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by TheKidWho (705796) on Monday June 28, 2010 @08:36AM (#32715250)

    Is it? The vast majority of mobile phones including Apples iPhone/iPod/iPad devices have hardware decoding of H.264. Can the same be said of VP8?

  • Re:Hmmm... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by The New Andy (873493) on Monday June 28, 2010 @08:38AM (#32715258) Homepage Journal
    ... or alternatively, it means that Google has found that it owns patents to bits inside H.264. So then as soon as someone sues Google (or "any entity") for stuff in VP8 they lose the right to use the bits of H.264 which are covered by patents that Google acquired when they purchased on2.

    I wouldn't be surprised if the ace up Google's sleeve is a patent on something which is key in both H.264 and VP8.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Monday June 28, 2010 @08:38AM (#32715264) Journal
    I think that it has been well understood, for some time, that VP8 is, by design, largely H.264-esque. Based on that "technical analysis of VP8 by an x264 developer" article that ran on slashdot shortly after Google's announcement, it would appear that the development strategy went more or less like this:

    1. Examine H.264
    2. Where the technique in question is not patent-encumbered, or patent encumbrances can be worked around, implement like H.264 did. Unless you have good reason to believe the contrary, your brilliant innovation probably isn't, and the guys who build decode silicon/write DSP firmware are not handing out prizes for novelty for its own sake.
    3. Where the technique in question is patent-encumbered, and the encumbrance cannot be compatibly worked around, implement the least-worst alternative.
    4. Get purchased by Google.

    Obviously, from a standpoint of legal defense and market acceptance, a codec of breathtaking novelty and power, looking like an algorithmic refugee from the comp-sci genocides of the 32nd century, would be preferable. Unfortunately, such isn't available by any known means. H.264 more or less represents the present consensus on best available technique in the field; but is heavily patent encumbered. The only real reason to deviate from it is to avoid patents. Assuming that they did, in fact, perform steps 2 and 3 correctly, they will have achieved approximately the best available result at the lowest possible cost.
  • Re:Hmmm... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MrHanky (141717) on Monday June 28, 2010 @08:51AM (#32715342) Homepage Journal

    No, and it never will. Apple's support for "open standards" is limited to only support for such standards when they depend on proprietary formats like AAC, mp3, h.264, etc. No support for Vorbis, Theora, VP8 or anything that can be implemented freely without a patent license. You wouldn't want free software to be able to compete, would you?

  • Re:Hmmm... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 28, 2010 @08:52AM (#32715350)

    They were able to keep the line-count low by relying on heavy reuse from the existing H.264 codebase."

    I bet the MPEG-LA will see that as proof that it violates their patents.

    They might, but that's not how patents work. MPEG relies on old math, when MPEG got together to write the spec they were deciding what the constants should be. For example, say they decided to use 20 taps in some filter, then one of the guys in the room went back to his company and said "patent using 20 taps in filter Y, stat!"* To avoid that patent all you need to do is use a different number of taps, say lets say 24 for concreteness.

    ffmpeg decodes many different formats, so they use reusable code. It's not surprising that they have a function that just implements the age old function and takes a parameter for the number of taps you want.

    *In some cases the constant was already patented, but because the MPEG process is "patent agnostic" there is no incentive to use some other non-patented constant and the guys owning a patent on that constant are in the room so they have every incentive to argue for using that constant.

  • Re:Hmmm... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by TheKidWho (705796) on Monday June 28, 2010 @08:55AM (#32715372)

    Free software should be able to compete and it does, unfortunately most free software is usually around 5 years behind the state of the art.

  • Re:Hmmm... (Score:1, Insightful)

    by crmarvin42 (652893) on Monday June 28, 2010 @09:14AM (#32715510)
    Exactly... If Vorbis, Theoria, VP8, et al. were on par with state of the art, and unlikely to expose Apple to patent litigation then I fail to see why they wouldn't. Apple spends more money on licensing AAC and H.264 than it makes off of their contributions to the patent pool that make up those standards.

    Apple cares about the quality of the final experience. They are willing to pay if it will make a noticable difference (and Steve has a discerning eye), and whether the "Free" brigade wants to admit it or not, Vorbis and Theora are not up to snuff and VP8 is a patent lawsuite waiting to happen. Whether Vorbis and Theora can be brought up to date is almost irrelevant because unless something dramtically changes, they never break new ground performancewise. They are always playing catchup and that is not a good place for them to be if they want competitive companies like Apple to use their technology. VP8 is supposed to be very promising performancewise, but the patent situation is very unclear and even the most flattering reviews I've read of VP8 say that H.264 still has an edge performancewise. The free options may be "Good Enough" for many here on /., but "Good Enough" is almost profanity as far as Apple is concerned.
  • Re:Hmmm... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Virak (897071) on Monday June 28, 2010 @09:35AM (#32715638) Homepage

    The post the parent linked to goes into extensive detail about the technical aspects of the codec, has a real [doom10.org] world [doom10.org] comparison [doom10.org], a proper one, and is overall an excellent article. In contrast, the article you linked to uses poor quality source videos, JPEG for their comparison images, and by their own admission didn't even manage to use the same frame for both codecs in the images, among other problems. If you're calling that a "real article", you are in no position to be calling someone else a troll.

    And enough of these fucking asinine claims about the x264 developers being out to get your poor, precious VP8 that crop up every time someone posts that link. They don't work for MPEG. They don't make obscene mounts of money off of all the people using their free (as in both sense of the word) open source software. They're not secret Chinese agents working to destroy the West from within through the patent system. There is absolutely no motive for them to lie about this sort of thing. VP8 is simply not as good of a codec, and no amount of baseless accusations will change this.

  • Re:Hmmm... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by LWATCDR (28044) on Monday June 28, 2010 @09:38AM (#32715678) Homepage Journal

    No it isn't
    Right now H.264 is free as in beer to every Windows, Mac, iPhone, iPod, iPad, Android, WinMo, and Palm WebOS users on the planet. And probably a good deal more people that I am leaving out.
    For the vast majority of them that is free enough.
    To make this work Google is going to have to get VP8 out on a lot of devices convince a lot of developers to produce video in that format.
    Will it happen? Maybe one can really hope.
    The other solution will be if we can ever get software patents overturned.
    BTW which I am all for.
    But to even state that just being free is good enough goes 100% counter to history.
    MP3 isn't free Vorbis Ogg is. You just don't see much music in Ogg format do you?
    You have to have the support in devices to make a format fly.

  • On a lot of platforms, especially handheld ones, an end user can't use binaries unless the platform's gatekeeper has distributed them. It's not as if the end user can just compile his own because the resulting binaries won't have a digital signature with a verifiable chain up to the gatekeeper.
  • Re:Hmmm... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by TheKidWho (705796) on Monday June 28, 2010 @09:40AM (#32715708)

    They demonstrated the marketability of a gimmick. Once they lose exclusivity of that gimmick, they have nothing else to compete on except for price.

    That and the quality of the software.

  • Re:Hmmm... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MrHanky (141717) on Monday June 28, 2010 @09:44AM (#32715764) Homepage Journal

    Calling the MPEG-LA a cartel would be more accurate than calling it "an international standards body".

  • Re:Hmmm... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Neil (7455) on Monday June 28, 2010 @09:56AM (#32715930) Homepage

    But, if the original poster's speculation were true, it would put Google in the traditional role of a technology patent holder who holds a defensive arsenal of patents: if MPEG-LA makes a fuss about aspects of VP8 which they claim infringe MPEG-LA patents, then Google can threaten to retaliate by suing everyone in the world who is currently shipping an implementation of H.264 for infringement of the On2/VP8 patents (and so publicly demonstrate the fact that being an licensee of the MPEG-LA H.264 pool doesn't protect one from all patent claims, and provides no insurance or indemnity).

    Stalemate. Mutually-assured-destruction stand-off. Result: VP8 available for royalty-free for use, without MPEG-LA interference.

    But only if Google really have inherited some killer On2 patents as part of their acquisition. I hope they have - it would make sense of their strategy and confidence in VP8 if this kind of thing were going on in the background.

  • Re:Hmmm... (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 28, 2010 @10:06AM (#32716030)

    >No, they'll just sue a couple prominent users of the technology, receive a squillion dollars in punitive damages and then everyone else cough up whatever licence fees bring them into compliance. It's obvious from various postings that VP8 is dangerously close to H264 in a number of ways so litigation is a very real threat. Furthermore, if it does turn into a legal battle that ultimately VP8 loses, there is no reason whatsover to continue using it since H264 is the industry standard.

    You are assuming that VP8 is the "copy", and that H.264 holds the patent.

    On2 have been in the video codec business longer than most of the H.264 patent holders. All that time, they studiously avoided MPEG-LA patents, and their main business method was in fact to offer video codecs that worked as well any from MPEG-LA, but far cheaper and utterly free of MPEG-LA patents.

    On2 made these claims for many years on end, and MPEG-LA never did find a way to sue On2. Not even for VP3 (used in Theora). For quite a while, Adobe used VP6 in Flash, because it performed as well and was far cheaper than any MPEG-LA codec.

    Google spent about six months doing due a diligence patent search on VP8, and it came up clean. Google would have been utterly foolish to spend $106 million (or whatever it was) buying On2 if VP8 was not clean. Google simply aren't that silly.

  • by Abcd1234 (188840) on Monday June 28, 2010 @10:18AM (#32716184) Homepage

    Oy vay... how the heck did that get modded interesting?

    Yes. VP8 is supposed to be free. And the code Google released is free. But the issues surrounding VP8 have absolutely nothing, zero, nada, to do with copyright law.

    The question is: Does VP8 include technology/methods covered by patents contributed to the MPEG-LA H.264 patent pool? The fact that a huge amount of H.264-related code could be reused in their VP8 decoder strongly suggests that, at minimum, VP8 and H.264 are very similar, and that greatly increases the odds that this is the case, and that any codec implementing VP8 would violate one or more of those patents.

    That's bad.

  • Re:Hmmm... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by samkass (174571) on Monday June 28, 2010 @10:31AM (#32716352) Homepage Journal

    Apple's support for "open standards" is limited to only support for such standards when they depend on proprietary formats like AAC, mp3, h.264, etc. No support for Vorbis, Theora, VP8 or anything that can be implemented freely without a patent license.

    Oh please. Apple will include anything that lets them sell substantially more hardware. If Vorbis or Theora would sell millions of units, they'd rapidly be well-supported across Apple's hardware line. The fact of the matter is that the standard codecs you mention (AAC, MP3, h.264) sell the most units, and because of the widespread industry support actually offer the best experience for the user.

  • Re:Hmmm... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Svartalf (2997) on Monday June 28, 2010 @10:42AM (#32716472) Homepage

    And do you know WHY it should be able to (I know you do because you brought it up- this is for the crowd that don't get what I'm about to mention here...)?

    This is because not a single one of the mobile devices out there with an A8 SoC really use "dedicated hardware" to decode h.264 or any of the other codecs you care to mention for video or audio.

    What do they use?

    A high-performance DSP chip. Not. Dedicated. Hardware.

    The same goes for anything with a Snapdragon or similar SoC. In fact, most devices don't use dedicated anything because you'd ned a bunch of special silicon for MPEG 1/2/4, MP3, WMA, etc. When you think about it, throwing a bunch of DSP muscle at the problem is cheaper than the dedicated hardware for all but a narrow range of applications.

    All one has to do write a DSP program for the codec in question and go for most devices.

    The "dedicated hardware" line is less of a real argument and more of a straw man argument that keeps getting trotted out every time some competing codec comes along.

  • Re:Hmmm... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by GameboyRMH (1153867) <gameboyrmhNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Monday June 28, 2010 @11:10AM (#32716810) Journal

    5 years behind? In what way? Maybe PC gaming?

    Free browsers are leading the pack. Free media players are at least on par with their commercial equivalents (I'm being very generous here, I have yet to see any commercial player like VLC or Mplayer). Free OSes are now comparable in terms of usability to commercial ones, and in technical terms are years AHEAD of commercial OSes. Vorbis and Theora are comparable to their best closed counterparts. VP8/WebM has totally closed the gap with H.264, for those who like to split hairs about Theora.

    I use all free software on all of my computers (apart from most of my games, the OS on my gaming PC, and some of the stock apps on my PDA) and I sure don't feel like I'm missing anything.

  • Re:Hmmm... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MrNaz (730548) on Monday June 28, 2010 @11:27AM (#32717012) Homepage

    Perhaps in some, but lets not forget that some FOSS projects are either the best, or very close to the best in their class. A few that come to mind: Apache, PostgreSQL, Linux, BSD, Asterisk, Firefox, Thunderbird, OpenSSH... and that's just a 10 second brainstorm. All of those are either clearly the best in their breed, or at least comparable to the top end product.

  • Empty threat (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ThrowAwaySociety (1351793) on Monday June 28, 2010 @12:12PM (#32717568)

    But, if the original poster's speculation were true, it would put Google in the traditional role of a technology patent holder who holds a defensive arsenal of patents: if MPEG-LA makes a fuss about aspects of VP8 which they claim infringe MPEG-LA patents, then Google can threaten to retaliate by suing everyone in the world who is currently shipping an implementation of H.264 for infringement of the On2/VP8 patents (and so publicly demonstrate the fact that being an licensee of the MPEG-LA H.264 pool doesn't protect one from all patent claims, and provides no insurance or indemnity).

    MPEG-LA itself admits this. The licensors' lawyers know that paying protection to MPEG-LA doesn't indemnify them.

    The licensees have no choice. They're like a shopkeeper in a town full of corrupt cops. Paying bribes to one cop doesn't mean they don't have to pay another bribe to a different cop next week, but you'd better believe they're going to pay the bribe each time anyway.

    Stalemate. Mutually-assured-destruction stand-off. Result: VP8 available for royalty-free for use, without MPEG-LA interference.

    That's absurd. Mutually assured destruction? It's more like Russia saying to the USA, "Disarm all of your ICBMs, or we'll nuke...Nigeria!"

    The MPEG-LA doesn't care what happens to its licensees

  • by mounthood (993037) on Monday June 28, 2010 @01:38PM (#32719062)

    The fact that a huge amount of H.264-related code could be reused in their VP8 decoder strongly suggests that, at minimum, VP8 and H.264 are very similar, and that greatly increases the odds that this is the case, and that any codec implementing VP8 would violate one or more of those patents.

    That's bad.

    OTOH, Google is a gigantic multinational with lots of money, lawyers and time to review the code, and they say it's free-and-clear of patent issues.

    That's good.

  • What does "relying on heavy reuse from the existing H.264 codebase" actually mean?

    It means that the code uses the same mathematical principals of video encoding/decoding that H264 does. Unfortunately, the USPTO being what it is today, these mathematical principals have been patented and are owned by various private entities. All this despite the fact that mathematics is not supposed to be patentable. Not that the USPTO actually cares about what is patentable and what is not anymore.

    Basically, H264 largely boils down to using Fourier series, motion estimation, colour subsampling,(bi-)linear interpolation, and bitstream compression. But then again, all video compression basically boils down to these steps. If you patent,not the methods or implementation, but the very idea of using these methods--"on a computer" to be sure--you've basically patented the idea of video compression itself. In fact, according to proponents of "intellectual property", you in fact own the idea of video compression; And based on the consensus view, MPEG-LA and others are seen as doing just that.

    Welcome to the future, where mathematical (and probably physical) laws of the universe are the sole and lawful property of hairless apes in business suits.

  • by Abcd1234 (188840) on Monday June 28, 2010 @02:00PM (#32719486) Homepage

    They're guessing. It's just that simple. Heck, Microsoft said the same thing when they released VC-1, and guess what? They were quite wrong, which is why there's now a patent pool for VC-1.

    No, I'll be *very* surprised if someone doesn't produce patents that VP8 violates. The only question is whether Google will be able to get the patent holders to contribute to a pool the way MS did with VC-1, so that Google can offer free or cheap licensing.

  • Re:Hmmm... (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 28, 2010 @03:25PM (#32720870)

    Wait a moment...
    Theora I can understand, although I'd say it's comparable to h264 *shock* *horror*. Because at the end of the day, that few % of compression ratio aren't a world of difference for most people and situations. It's better than any codec of the pre-h264 generation. Where h264 definitely leads is hardware implementation and support from Apple, Sony, ...

    But Vorbis? How can Vorbis not be on par with the state of the art? It is the state of the art! Apple choses not to support it because they'd have to support Free/Open Source competition.

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