Time to switch from VP6 to H.264? Yes, but .. mind the royalties

Got this question today via email:

Found your article in Streaming Media (http://www.streamingmedia.com/article.asp?id=10969) particularly useful, and wondered if you had any updates on .flv vs H.264 penetration and usage.  We’re considering going 100% H.264 and wondered if you had a moment to talk about it on the phone.

I responded:

[Breaking news – On February 3, 2010, MPEG-LA announced a continuation of free pricing for free Internet distribution of H.264 video. Read the release here, and an interview with Larry Horn, MPEG-LA CEO, here.]

Nothing systematic, but it feels like the tipping point has passed. I know that Major League Baseball and MTV are both using H.264 rather than VP6 and feel pretty good about their opinions about both quality and penetration. If you like statistics, Adobe reports that Flash Player 10 penetration was at 93.5% as of September, 2009, and all these players are H.264 compatible.

I sent the message, than remembered that H.264 has a royalty obligation for free internet use starting in January 2011 that MPEG-LA is set to define by the end of January 2010. If you’re Internet-only, and don’t create podcasts or stream to iPhones, you can avoid the royalty by sticking with VP6.

So, I emailed my questioner back, reminded him of the royalty obligation and sent him this link to my article H.264 Royalties, What You Need to Know. 

He emailed back; “Our assumption has been that that’s built in to Apple’s compressor plugin cost. Is that incorrect?”

I responded; “Unfortunately, not. I’m sure that Apple is paying a royalty of some kind on the encoder (or would be if they weren’t an intellectual property contributor) but there’s a separate royalty on those streaming with H.264. Read the article and let me know if you have any questions.”

Clearly, the penetration is there to deploy H.264, but it’s tough to feel really good about it until you know how much it’s gonna cost.

About Jan Ozer

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I help companies train new technical hires in streaming media-related positions; I also help companies optimize their codec selections and encoding stacks, and evaluate new encoders and codecs.

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