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Amazon, Google, and More Working on Royalty-Free Codec

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Seven leading internet companies today announced the Alliance for Open Media, which will consolidate several codec development projects into a single working group that hopes to deliver a video codec for internet delivery by late 2016/early 2017. All joining members have agreed that whatever technology they contribute will be available royalty free.

Founding members include Amazon, Cisco, Google, Intel Corporation, Microsoft, Mozilla, and Netflix; each will contribute both IP and expertise. In particular, Cisco will contribute all technology relating to Thor, while Google and Mozilla will do the same for VP10 and Daala, respectively.

I spoke with Alliance spokespersons Ian LeGrow of Microsoft, and Matt Frost of Google. Frost confirmed that while the final details have yet to be worked out, the intention was for Google to contribute all VP10-related technology to the group and not release the codec separately.

In discussing the genesis of the Alliance, Frost related Google’s frustration at having the largest streaming service in the world (YouTube), while not having a seat at the table when it came to setting codec-related standards. This led to Google’s acquiring On2 and what turned out to be VP8 and later codecs. Other Alliance members felt similar frustrations, and discussions started among the companies about 18 months ago. Those with ongoing codec developments ultimately recognized that it didn’t make sense to have three open source codecs vying for market space.

LeGrow pointed out that all members are large-scale implementers of streaming video technology, and highly technical, which makes them confident that they can produce a technology that’s easy for the ecosystem to adapt. All companies share in an upfront commitment that any technologies they contribute can be used royalty free.

I asked whether the Alliance expected to supplant HEVC in the broadcast space. Frost pointed out that while streaming and broadcast were separate markets, there was obviously some overlap. One of Google’s focuses with VP8/9 was to help create licensable hardware IP that made it simple for chip companies to implement the codecs in hardware, and that would be a continued priority.

In terms of roadmap, the group’s initial priority is to finalize a codec spec, which it hopes to accomplish over the next few months. Beyond that, Frost related that Google’s goal was to ship VP10 by early 2017 at the latest, and that he felt that the Alliance could meet this goal for their first combined effort.

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