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xiphmont

Blogging Theora

Video codec blogs, especially talking about video in HTML5, pull some real trolls out of the woodwork. Naturally, posts addressing Theora catch my attention. Because the blog that's the source of the below quotes just disappeared, I'll quote some here:

Note; I had originally thought Ian Hickson had written this quote, but I was mistaken. The point it makes is unchanged of course, but getting the attribution right is important.

Posted by Michael John Ventnor: "The distinction between the video format war and the browser war is that it is far more unlikely for the open video format to make a comeback. Firefox had to be completely immensely better than IE, coupled with 1.0 being hyped at the right time (when IE had security bulletins almost every day), and we're still battling hard. There is almost no compelling reason to choose Theora over WMV from a complacent person's perspective.

"I really hope we're not going to support the proprietary video formats in each respective backend, that would be an enormous mistake for the open web. You'd need to run a proprietary OS to view these proprietary formats on the web (without being sued), which is exactly the antithesis of the entire Mozilla project".

This post is not Theora-hating. It rings mostly true. Eg, the only way Vorbis ever achieved any market segment permanence was by being unquestionably better than all other comers. Theora began life as VP3, which was certainly not a compelling technology when On2 gave it away seven-ish years ago. That we've progressed beyond VP3 is vaguely irrelevant in the collective mindshare. But the patent FUD Theora is suffering from is exactly the same as was tossed at Vorbis, and is going to cause even more damage this time:
Posted by Hixie: "The Theora codec isn't unencumbered, despite popular opinion; it just hasn't had anyone claim patents on it publicly yet."

The same claim has been being made against Vorbis for ten years but those voices have finally mostly quieted and are being forgotten. Vorbis actually had public threats from Thomson (which were retracted, but the retractions were not widely reported).

Of course part of the problem is that there is no legal test for 'unencumbered'. Nor do you have to be infringing to get sued. We will always have a halting problem here. And yet, both Vorbis and Theora are ten years old with no claims against them. Would another ten be sufficient? Twenty?

Vague threats that come to nothing (nothing that is except eliminating the monopoly interest's competition) are the story of my professional life. Patent law is being used to extort outright, and most of the interests represented here are willingly buying into it.

This isn't even getting to the trolls. And we sit around and wonder why this industry is so dysfunctional:

Posted by Anonymous Coward: "The development of 'the odd one out' is controlled by a loose group of developers making changes to it in an uncontrolled manner."

Let me give names to this dark, shadowy, menacing 'loose group' here. The core project leads are myself (Monty), Ralph Giles and Timothy Terriberry, unchanged for the past five years. We're in control of the codec and format. I'm happy to stack this core against any codec team out there. 'Volunteer' does not make us 'uncontrolled'. What I assume Anonymous means here is that we're not controlled by him.

Posted by Anonymous Coward: "See the complaints on the theora mailing list about non-reviewed code being committed to their source code repository. Can you say 'patent nightmare'?"

I feel like I'm getting played by responding to claims like this, and yet they're repeated so often.

Here the anonymous troll is harping on a recent complaint involving committing an MMX/SSE acelleration patch that ran against one of Intel's implementation guidelines and we reverted. This had nothing to do with the format.

In other incarnations, the trolls latch onto messages sent by people watching the project who don't actually contribute code. I suppose "loose" and "uncontrolled" does indeed apply to some of our louder fanboys. I'll point out they don't submit (or commit) code.

But more to the point, we're a distributed organization and we have our technical discussions in public. Every minor bug, every minor misstep is there in plain view for the world to see. This is the very embodiment of 'transparency'. Apparently there are industry figures who don't comment in blogs using their real names suggesting that the programmers in their employ never make minor (or major) mistakes. Because they're committed in secret, or no one ever publically admits to errors, it's the same thing as mistakes never happening.

I really hope no one in any position of authority actually believes that.

Tags:

I wonder how I could have possibly misread that. Either way I think the point is correct. Let me see if I can go back and fix the attribution.

On a more technical note, the problem from my point of view (as the HTML5 spec writer) is that it really doesn't matter _why_ the big vendors don't want to implement Theora -- the mere fact that they don't want to implement it makes it pointless for me to tell them to implement it. Spec authors only have as much power as the implementors of their specs give them. In the browser world, the browser vendors just point blank ignore anything they disagree with, whatever the reason. That's why we started HTML5 in the first place.

The video codec issue is definitely still being investigated. It might take some time, but we'll find a solution in due course, and that solution will be compatible with the distribution models of free and open source projects. It may even be Theora -- the best way to make that happen would be for people to put out Web content using Theora and for people to convince Web users to install Theora codecs. If there is substantial content on the Web that uses Theora, that codec becomes much more compelling. (Note that the same applies to other codecs -- and right now, the H.264 camp is doing much better at convincing people to use their codec. Really the only thing preventing H.264 from being used is the lack of RF patent license terms.)

> On a more technical note, the problem from my point of view (as the HTML5
> spec writer) is that it really doesn't matter _why_ the big vendors don't
> want to implement Theora -- the mere fact that they don't want to
> implement it makes it pointless for me to tell them to implement it.

I know, and I'm writing for public/mindshare consumption as much as anything.
I'm not frustrated with you, I'm frustrated with the situation that we're both in.

> Really the only thing preventing H.264 from being used is
> the lack of RF patent license terms.)

Yes, and if there were RF terms available for h.264, I would consider that a
victory as well.

thank you

(Anonymous)

2008-09-25 07:51 am (UTC)

favorited this one, guy

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