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[homework] summary of the video (and audio) codec discussion

From: Dave Singer <singer@apple.com>
Date: Fri, 9 Nov 2007 10:24:06 -0500
Message-Id: <p0624086dc35a2c1101e5@[]>
To: public-html@w3.org

I was asked to write up the discussion on codecs we had.  Here are my 
notes.  This probably should be wiki-ed somewhere?

* * * * * * * *


The HTML5 specification contains new elements to allow the embedding 
of audio and video, similar to the way that images have historically 
been embedded in HTML.  In contrast to today's behavior, using 
object, where the behavior can vary based on both the type of the 
object and the browser, this allows for consistent attributes, DOM 
behavior, accessibility management, and so on.  It also can handle 
the time-based nature of audio and video in a consistent way.

However, interoperability at the markup level does not ensure 
interoperability for the user, unless there are commonly supported 
formats for the video and audio encodings, and the file format 
wrapper.  For images there is no mandated format, but the widely 
deployed solutions (PNG, JPEG/JFIF, GIF) mean that interoperability 
is, in fact, achieved.


The problem is complicated by the IPR situation around audio and 
video coding, combined with the W3C patent policy 
<http://www.w3.org/Consortium/Patent-Policy-20040205/>. "W3C seeks to 
issue Recommendations that can be implemented on a Royalty-Free (RF) 
basis."  Note that much of the rest of the policy may not apply (as 
it concerns the specifications developed at the W3C, not those that 
are normatively referenced).  However, it's clear that at least 
RF-decode is needed.


There are, of course, a number of codecs and formats that can be 
considered.  A non-exhaustive list might include a variety of 
'public' codecs, as well, of course, as proprietary ones:

a) open-source projects:  the ogg family (vorbis, theora), and the 
BBC Dirac video codec project
b) Current ISO/IEC (MPEG) standard codecs, notably the MPEG-4 family: 
AVC (14496-10, jointly published with the ITU as H.264), AAC (part of 
c) Older MPEG codecs, notably MPEG-2 layer 3 (aka MP3), MPEG-2 layer 
1 and 2 audio, and maybe MPEG-4 part 2 video (14496-2)
d) Current standard codecs from other bodies;  SMPTE VC-1, for example
e) Older standards from other bodies:  ITU recommendations H.263 
(with or without its many enhancement annexes) or even H.261
f) Very old standard codecs, formats, or industry practices;  notably 
the common format for video from digital still cameras (Motion JPEG 
with uncompressed audio in an AVI wrapper)
g) Proprietary codecs, such as Dolby AC-3 audio

Candidate concerns:

There are concerns or issues with all of these:
a) a number of large companies are concerned about the possible 
unintended entanglements of the open-source codecs; a 'deep pockets' 
company deploying them may be subject to risk here;
b) the current MPEG codecs are currently licensed on a royalty-bearing basis;
c) this is also true of the older MPEG codecs;  though their age 
suggests examining the lifetime of the patents;
d) and also SMPTE VC-1
e) H.263 and H.261 both have patent declarations at the ITU. 
However, it is probably worth examining the non-assert status of 
these, which parts of the specifications they apply to (e.g. H.263 
baseline or its enhancement annexes), and the age of the patents and 
their potential expiry.
f) This probably doesn't have significant IPR risk, as its wide 
deployment in systems should have exposed any risk by now;  but it 
hardly represents competitive compression.
g) Most proprietary codecs are licensed for payment, as that is the 
business of the companies who develop them.

Other licensing concerns:

It's also possible that there are other issues around licensing:
a) variations in licensing depending on filed patents in various geographies
b) restrictions on usage, or fees on usage, other than the fees on 
implementation (e.g. usage fees on content sold for remuneration).

It's not entirely clear, also, whether 'implementing' HTML means the 
ability to decode and display, or whether encoding is also included. 
Including encoding in the equation might significantly complicate 

Possible action:

The members of the WG are engineers, not IPR experts. There is 
general consensus that a solution is desirable, but also that 
engineers are not well placed to find it:
a) they are not experts in the IPR and licensing field;
b) many of them are discouraged by their employers from reading 
patents or discussing IPR.

It's clear that the December workshop cannot be silent on this 
subject.  There must be recognition of the issue and evidence of at 
least efforts to solve it, and preferably signs of progress.

It is probable that this is best handled in parallel with the 
technical work, and headed by someone 'technically neutral' and 
qualified, such as W3C technical and legal staff.  A good start would 
be to:
a) examine the declaration, licensing, and patent expiry situation 
for various codecs;
b) contact the licensing authorities for various codecs to determine 
their level of interest and flexibility, and possibly invite them to 
the December workshop.
c) analyze the open-source codecs for their risk level, and possibly 
seek statements from patent owners if that is deemed prudent;

David Singer
Received on Friday, 9 November 2007 15:24:25 UTC

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