On2 Acquisition

I’ve been hearing it ever since last August:

Google owns On2. They are going to open source all of On2’s codecs.

Well, no. Google does not own On2. They made a bid for the company last August, sweetened the offer somewhere along the line, and saw the offer accepted 2 days ago. From all of my reading, the deal is still not closed (though many reports are optimistic that today is the big day; and what do you know? As I was proofreading this entry, today turned out to be that big day.).

Whatever. Google is going to own On2 soon and then they’re going to open source all of On2’s codecs.

What on earth makes you think that they would do that?

Everyone is saying that Google is going to open source all of On2’s codecs.

Take a good look at this lengthy list of companies that Google has acquired. Can you name 3 instances where Google acquired a company with proprietary software technology and promptly released said technology as open source? I guess Etherpad counts as 1. That’s not exactly a trend.

Google is going to open source VP6, VP7, and VP8, all of which come from the lineage of VP3 (the name indicates that, so it must be the case), which is what Theora is based on, which has been indisputably shown to be better than H.264, the current web standard. Therefore, these later codecs are going to be even more awesome than Theora, which is already more awesome than H.264.

Okay, it helps to understand how misleading those alleged benchmarks were. The distilled thesis that Theora is better than H.264… you know what? Go ahead and believe that Theora is technically superior to H.264 if you wish. It doesn’t matter. People who matter (i.e., decision-makers) know better.

Google is going to open source On2’s codecs and that’s going to kill Adobe Flash Player.

Every week, there’s something else that’s supposedly going to be the final nail in the coffin of what I work on at my day job. This week, the buzz was all about On2 (at least among people who grasp what a video codec is). Anyway, what makes you think that the open sourcing of said codecs would kill Flash Player?

People only use Flash Player to watch video on the web, and the only site that serves video on the web is YouTube, and Google owns YouTube.

You’re welcome to extrapolate general usage models based on your own perception and behavior while ignoring research from outfits who study these trends all day. I want to get back to this core assumption that Google is interested in On2 so that they can open source On2’s video codecs.

Due to the magical power of open source, as soon as Google open sources all of On2’s codecs, the open source community will embrace the code and integrate it into every relevant piece of software everywhere.

Okay, this is where I must issue a dire warning: Be careful what you wish for. You’re salivating at the prospect of being able to read and hack around with On2’s code? You can get a taste of On2’s code here: Download their VpVision product from back in the day. It includes VP3 (adapted to become Theora) as well as VP1 and VP2 (née Duck TrueMotion 1 and 2) along with 2 ADPCM audio codecs. Go ahead and try to make it compile. Some very talented multimedia hackers have studied it for 8 years and still haven’t figured out everything about those codecs in that code.

In summary: I don’t think Google is buying On2 so that they can open source On2’s codecs. I have absolutely no insight into why Google cares about On2. But then, neither does anyone else commenting on the matter. I’m just a codec nerd who has been watching On2/Duck for nearly as long as they have existed. Most people claiming that Google is going to open source On2’s codecs only seem to be citing as evidence their own wishes as well as those of their fellow bloggers/tweeters. But, hey, that’s the internet for you.

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9 thoughts on “On2 Acquisition

  1. Reimar

    Well, from my point of view e.g. YouTube has the problem that the MPEGLA can shut them down any day by introducing per-view fees, and I certainly would feel the need to mitigate that risk.
    Having an alternative like VP8 would both give them something to switch to and discourage the MPEGLA for doing it.
    In order for it to be an alternative VP8 must be (more or less) as well supported as H.264, which I guess they’d need support on Flash and by Apple.
    The only argument for making it OpenSource I see is that they might want to make HTML5 more viable as kind of “what benefits the web benefits Google” approach – well, and maybe they might want to support it via their existing video infrastructure in Chrome, which would prefer a VP8 decoder in FFmpeg.
    Encoder is a completely different case though.

  2. Jonathan Wilson

    What Google could do is to get VP8 support into major browsers either directly or via plugins and then if the MPEG LA ever threatens to switch to VP8 for YouTube.

    At a minimum they should test the performance of VP8 vs H.264 on a representitive cross-section of YouTube videos just to see whether VP8 is or isn’t as good as H.264 in real world use.

  3. Jonathan Wilson

    That last one should have read “if the MPEG LA ever talks about introducing pay-per-view threaten to switch to VP8”

  4. Multimedia Mike Post author

    Honestly, the “leverage against MPEG LA monkeying with fees” is the single most plausible theory I have yet heard.

  5. Fruit

    True, it sounds plausible it was bought “just in case”…

    I guess they can afford to spend money on stuff with very hypothetical usability.

  6. Aninhumer

    All I’m seeing here are a bunch of loose arguments, followed by beating on some strawmen.

    “Google haven’t opened much stuff before”
    So what? There was never a reason to before. Looking down that list, it’s mostly stuff for web applications, which obviously Google benefits greatly from protecting the code for. However Google gains nothing by sitting on a codec. (Except perhaps the threat to MPEGLA as some have said). They would gain something by being able to run youtube without a h264 licence though, and that would require wide support for a new format, something they’d be able to move towards with Firefox VP8 support.

    Of course I don’t claim it’s certain they’ll open source it, merely that your point doesn’t seem like a very strong argument against it.

    “h254 is better than Theora”
    I don’t think many people are arguing with this, but it’s ir

    “It won’t kill Flash player because people use it for more than video” (This is how I read that part)
    No it won’t kill flash player. What it could do is unify HTML5 supporters, and make it a widely supported technology. At that point, it becomes a viable alternative for streaming video, and one that would not require paying for a proprietary product to run. Youtube is already testing a HTML5 player, and there’s no reason they couldn’t make it the default player for browsers that support it in the future.

    “The code might be unreadable”
    Google would get more than source code, they’d have access to all the people who created it, who would be perfectly capable of documenting anything as necessary. The code may require clean up of course, but I don’t see why Google wouldn’t be capable of that.

  7. Aninhumer

    whoops, started a section about h264 vs Theora:

    “h254 is better than Theora”
    I don’t think many people are arguing with this, but it’s irrelevant to the topic.

  8. Multimedia Mike Post author

    @Aninhumer: I don’t dispute that anything could happen, including the wholesale open sourcing of every piece of On2’s IP. I’m just annoyed when I see so many people confidently asserting that Google will do so and the only piece of evidence they seem to be able to cite is… the fact that they really, really hope it happens.

  9. compn

    1. google buys on2
    2. mpegla hikes h264 rate
    3. people drop h264
    4. people buy on2 codecs
    5. google profits

    cmon guys. look into the future. if on2 has a cheaper codec than mpegla its simple math.

    the question being, when is the best time to buy google stock like crazy?

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