So, today at Google I/O 2010, Google announced that, along with a number of other groups, they were releasing WebM, a video container and codec. (WebM itself specifies the container, which is a variation of Matroska, as well as the video format, the newly-released VP8, and the audio format, Ogg Vorbis.) I won’t get into the technical details of the codec, as I’m not really qualified to do so, but a developer for x264 has a reasonably thorough review of a prerelease version of the code here.
The interesting part of VP8 / WebM is that it is a reasonably good video standard that may be theoretically free to use. (The currently popular “best” video format, H.264, is riddled with patents and requires licensing for most uses, although encoding video that’s available for free doesn’t require payments until at least 20151.) It doesn’t appear as though anybody is claiming that WebM is the best video format available, but it’s reasonably good, and potentially free to use. (It’s impossible to know whether someone else has patented parts of the standard, because that would require examining every software patent ever granted, which is not going to happen.) For some background, the video codec, VP8, was produced by a company named On2 before Google bought them last year. Its predecessors, VP6 and VP7 were used for video in Flash2 and the video in Skype3, respectively.
Most of this will be fairly boring to anyone who normally reads this blog, but if you’re interested in a way to encode WebM videos yourself in Ubuntu, read on.