As you’re no doubt aware, HTML5 video is this year’s big thing – but there’s a dispute going on about which should become the default standard video codec. The current nascent de facto standard is H.264, but recently the new WebM format is gaining traction.
I’ve no idea how the web video format war will end. My preference is that a free, non-patent encumbered, high-quality video codec will become the standard, and WebM is the best fit for that description. Despite the recent announcement by the MPEG LA, the patent pool which controls licensing of H.264, that it will always be free for ‘video delivered to the internet without charge’, that still doesn’t make it free-as-in-speech, and still not free-as-in-beer for anyone wanting to build a business around video encoding/decoding (which includes, if I’m not mistaken, bundling it with a browser). All that said, my preference is meaningless in the face of so many vested business interests.
But this post isn’t really about that; it’s about clearing up a misconception. One common statement I keep seeing repeated (WebMonkey said this in May, but I’ve seen it even more recently) is that Safari will be the only browser to not support WebM, when even the Internet Explorer team have promised to. That’s not the case. What the IE team said was that they will support WebM (or rather, the VP8 codec) as long as the user has installed the codec on Windows. Safari’s position is identical, they just haven’t publicly stated so.
The current free alternative to H.264, OGG video, is also not supported in Safari – but you can play OGG videos in Safari by downloading and installing the Xiph Quicktime Components. Likewise, Windows Media files are supported through Flip4Mac. WebM can be supported in Safari in the same way, as soon as someone creates a QuickTime plugin (I believe experimental support is in Perian already). This is exactly the same situation as with IE.
Where this doesn’t apply is on mobile devices; many – principal amongst them, the iOS range – don’t allow extra codecs to be installed. However, this is slightly supplemental to my point, which is that both IE and Safari – on desktop – are capable of playing WebM via a plugin. I believe that if people will install the Flash plugin, they will install the WebM plugin – and when we have choice and competition, a true standard can be reached by consensus, rather than financial clout.
Update [04/01/12]: WebM support is indeed included in Perian, and seems to work very well.