WebM is a new open standard for compressed Video Content. It shall offer an alternative to commercial Formats such as h264, MPEG4 and MPEG2, that are patented and require a commercial licence. WebM is based on two open codecs for compressing the video and audio component of the content.
VP8 for Video
The video content of a WebM file is compressed with VP8, a technology developed by ON2, which was recently acquired by Google, who then went on to make VP8 an open and free technology. VP8 is considered to be one of the few standards that can keep up with the modern MPEG4 compression standards both in quality and filesize.
Vorbis for Audio
Of course also the Audio-Component of a Video-File needs to be compressed, therefore another open technology is used: Vorbis (also known as Ogg Vorbis), a free open source software for lossy audio-compression, and therefore an alternative to MP3.
Check out some test files in WebM Format here.
Impact of WebM
With the growth of Online Video and increasing Quality and Size of the Videos there was also demand for a high quality codec that is capable of delivering HD videos highly compressed but still in in high quality. So far, only the proprietary h.264/MPEG4 Standard was regarded as capable of this – but since it is patented and needs to be licensed, it is only suitable for commercial applications.
Google was looking for an alternative that could be offered free of charge and with open source, which led to the acquisition of ON2, the company that developed VP8, and released their video compression software as open source. Through Googles strong market position as owner of Online-Video Giant YouTube, all major Browsers will support WebM. Also open Phone Operating Systems like Googles Android have built in Support. This makes WebM a real alternative to h.264, todays propietary de-facto standard of web-video.
It will be interesting to see how other online entertainment brands like hulu, bwin or netflix will react to the availability of an open standard. After all it would mean for them that they have to convert their huge archives, and store at least two versions of their video content.
Another question is the hardware support. While all major browsers will support the format, the operating systems themselves dont, and neither do mobile phones or set-top boxes. Google has already announced WebM Support for the next release of their Android Operating System, while Market-Leader Apple so far doesnt support it on their iPhone, and given their rivalry with Google they probably wont in the future.