What is WebM?

In the near future, you will probably hear a lot more about WebM and VP8 as browsers are beginning to come out that support this open video format. Google, after acquiring On2 Technologies, has released its latest video codec (VP8) in an open format as part of its WebM project.

So, what’s the WebM project — and why does it matter to users?

In short, WebM is an audio-video format designed to be used on the Web. It exists as a royalty-free and open standard, giving it the ability to be used in virtually any application without heavy licensing fees or other burdens that might otherwise restrict the developer’s adaptation of the technology. It is being (or in the process of being) supported by the latest and upcoming revisions of Opera, Google Chrome, and Firefox. Apple has thus far determined that WebM isn’t a standard that it will support. IE currently requires third-party plugins to properly display WebM content.

What is WebM?WebM is built to work with HTML5 seamlessly. HTML5 includes built-in support for embedded video, making it more possible for new technologies (such as WebM) to compete directly in a market dominated by Adobe Flash.

A WebM file is essentially a wrapper that contains video (VP8) and audio (Vorbis) information that can be played through a media player. This is how most container formats work, by combining two different codecs in a single file so audio and video can remain in a synchronous format and exist within a single file. With MP4, another container format, these codecs typically include H.264 and AAC or another supported audio format.

In order for WebM to flourish, it will need to gain the support of software and hardware developers. In order for the format to play in a browser, the developer of that browser has to commit some level of its resources towards recognizing and properly handling WebM. In many applications, a fall-back to HTML5 and MP4 or Flash is in place for browsers that do not yet support WebM.

Popular media players including Winamp, VLC, and Miro have announced support for the format. Adobe also announced that its Flash player will include support for WebM, as well. Android devices running Android 2.3 Gingerbread also support WebM natively. AMD, ARM, and Broadcom are providing hardware acceleration support for the format, with Intel indicating that it may jump on board if the format gains sufficient popularity.

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