I have been studying multimedia technology since 2000. It has been a pretty chaotic technological landscape. People who wanted to publish video on the web wondered what format to use (and occasionally sought my advice). Various fiefdoms arose around Microsoft, Apple, and Real, all hoping to claim the mantle of the standard web video format. Somewhere along the line, Macromedia “accidentally” established a standard web video format via the Flash Player (now Adobe’s).
A few years ago, Adobe (my employer, BTW) upgraded the video support in Flash Player to use the same video format that happened to sit at the top of QuickTime’s codec heap: QT-MP4/H.264/AAC. A few days ago, Microsoft announced the beta of Silverlight 3, which contains support for the same formats. After absorbing that information, it took a few days for the next thought to coalesce in my mind:
We have a standard multimedia format.
All the big players support the same multimedia stack (I think even Real Player supports the same stack). I know that’s dismaying to certain elements of the free software community who insist that Xiph’s multimedia stack is the “standard” (really! there are blessed RFCs to back it up and everything); you may not like it, but that’s the way it is:
- QT-MP4 is the standard container format, not Ogg
- H.264 is the standard video codec, not Theora (or dirac)
- AAC (and also MP3, for historical purposes) is the standard audio codec, not Vorbis
Sure, you may, in principal, have to send a dollar or 2 over to the Patent Illuminati (though highly unlikely). But it’s either that, or, you know, not have a standard video format. (And remember, the HTML5 video tag is not coming to save you.)
At least the free software enthusiast can take comfort in knowing that open source (L/GPL) efforts such as FFmpeg and x264 aim to create the very best tools that anyone can possibly use to create these formats.
Addendum: Now that I think about it, I don’t necessarily know if Silverlight 3 will transport H.264 and AAC inside of a QT-MP4 container or somehow pack it into an ASF file. That would be interesting to find out, though I have read (possibly uninformed) blog chatter excited about being able to stream the same file through Flash and Silverlight.