Google owns On2. What now?

When it comes to companies that create multimedia codecs, I have followed none closer then that of On2 Technologies.

On2 came to my attention when TrueMotion VP3 was released as Open Source Software in late 2001. On2 released the source code of their VP3 codec. They irrevocably disclaimed all rights to the codec and gave all individuals and organisations working on the code a royalty-free license grant for any patent claims it might have over the software and any derivatives their patents on the video codec technology. On2 made a further donation to the Open Source community when in 2002 it re-released the source code under the LGPL and gave the source code of VP3 to the Foundation under a BSD license to create what is now known as ‘Theora’.

Their video codec “TrueMotion” amazed me with the quality that it could provide with such low bitrates, and the technology in VP4, VP5 and VP6 continued to just get better. Unfortunately, even after (or maybe because of) Flash 8 supporting VP6 videos natively code did not continue to flow into the open source community.

Comparison of different video formats on the web

VP6 has always been a popular format on the web, but since the arrival of H.264 on the codec scene this has most surely changed. On August 26, 2010 MPEG LA announced that H.264 encoded internet video that is free to end users will never be charged for royalties, however, the license terms are updated in 5-year blocks which does not give the MPEG Licensing Alliance that long* to change their minds.

* Yes, 5 years is a long time, but not in ‘technology’ time. A lot of revolutions occur in five years time. Five years is not a long time for a Licensing organization such as MPEG LA to change their minds on something as crucial as what format your videos will be licensed under.

On 19 February 2010, Google had completed the acquisition of On2 Technologies. By May 19, 2010 something that I long dreamed of occurred. Google finally open sourced the latest version of the On2 codec.

Finally seeing a codec such as On2’s VP8 as a fully open source standard, with everything open sourced is a fantastic sight. We can all only hope that Google will ensure that the technology only gets better from here on in.

MPEG LA has claimed that video codecs such as Theora and VP8 infringe on patents owned by its licensors, without disclosing the affected patent or patents. That does not sound like SCO all over again, does it?

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