Google Chrome Drops H.264 Support

Google is pulling support for H.264 from its Chrome Web browser in favor of the its own WebM video codec along with the Theora video codec. The company said it is making the move in favor of supporting open formats, and H.264 doesn’t fit in with Google’s plans.

Chrome, now with less H.264

“We expect even more rapid innovation in the web media platform in the coming year and are focusing our investments in those technologies that are developed and licensed based on open web principles. To that end, we are changing Chrome’s HTML5 <video> support to make it consistent with the codecs already supported by the open Chromium project,” said Chrome product manager Mike Jazayeri. “Specifically, we are supporting the WebM (VP8) and Theora video codecs, and will consider adding support for other high-quality open codecs in the future.”

He acknowledged that H.264 has a prominent place in online video playback, but Google wants to focus on what it calls “open innnovation.” Mr. Jazayeri added “Support for the codec will be removed and our resources directed towards completely open codec technologies.”

Dropping support for H.264 is a big move for Google since most Web-capable devices include H.264 codecs. Apple supports the format across its Mac lineup, along with the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad. Google’s own YouTube supports H.264, as do many gaming consoles, and even the Blu-ray disc format.

In contrast, Google’s WebM hasn’t been widely adopted and isn’t as robust as H.264. WebM also doesn’t support hardware decoders — a benefit of H.264 — which means mobile devices could see shorter battery life and choppy playback when streaming WebM-based content.

Mr. Jazayeri didn’t say if Google planned to drop Chrome’s Flash support as well. Currently, Flash is bundled in the Chrome application, which could be the format that Web developers chose for Chrome viewers over WebM.

Google plans to pull H.264 from Chrome in about two months to give developers time to transition to a different video playback format.