A few month ago, I posted about the pros and cons of WebM, especially since it’s competing against a well-adopted technology, MPEG. The main problem I noted about WebM was the uncertainty of whether or not you could run into patent problems for using it, especially its video component, VP8. And indeed, it seems no major company adopted the Open Source format.
Until today. On the WebM project blog, Google announced that starting with versions 5.5, Skype will use VP8 for their video conferencing component. They will keep their in-house audio codec, SILK, for the audio conferencing. This means that they are not using WebM (Ogg Vorbis for audio + VP8 for video in a MKV container), only one of the component. But given that VP8 is the one component of WebM with potential patent claim issues, it’s a rather bold move. And a good news.
It’s even bolder because Skype is now owned by Microsoft. Microsoft has got its own video and audio codecs – especially VC-1, which is even a standard. Skype wouldn’t have to pay anything to use VC-1, but they still went the VP8 route. It will be interesting to know why they made that choice, but the claimed high latency and packet loss tolerance of VP8 probably played a big part in it (VC-1 is better suited for High Definition medias, like BluRay or video games).
In any case, it’s good to see VP8 picking up interest. We shall this how this plays out, especially since Microsoft is a member of the MPEG-LA and could potentially sue themselves if VP8 does indeed infringe on their patents. If they don’t sue themselves, it could make a precedent protecting subsequent use of VP8 without fear of patent claims. Or MPEG-LA could setup a deal allowing Microsoft/Skype to use VP8 even if it infringes on their patent. Good times.