I have been hearing that Google Chrome is either stopping support for or has already stopped support for this movie thing called H.264.

What is H.264, and what is it used for?


H.264 isn't an open codec. The patent is owned by MPEG LA, which for several years, has allowed it to be used more or less freely. However, this can change at any time. So, rather than standardize on a codec that may or may not be free tomorrow, the Chrome team decided to base all their video on an open standard.

On one hand, that's good because Theora and WebM are open standards which anyone can use. On one hand, it's bad, because it's not an industry standard like H.264 has become. But, that may slowly change.

Still worse, not all browsers currently support the same video codec for HTML5. As you can imagine, this is a big headache for web developers who wish to take advantage of HTML5 video. Internet Explorer uses H.264, Chrome uses Theora and WebM, Firefox uses Theora, Opera uses Theora and WebM, and Safari uses H.264.


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H.264 is a video codec used mainly for encoding High Definition video. Wikipedia has a good site all about it.

If the system you are using for video playback doesn't support H.264 then you may not be able to play some high definition videos.

I suspect that the Google Chrome that is dropping (or has dropped) support for H.264 may be ChromeOS and not Chrome the web browser, as web browsers don't natively handle video but pass it on to plugins to do it for them. If it is the browser that is stopping support for H.264 then there will be a third party plugin (such as QuickTime, Windows Media Player, etc) that will handle it instead.

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As others have said, H.264 is a video codec. The new HTML5 standard adds a lot of things that needed plugins before, such as video. The Chrome browser had support for HTML5 videos in various video codecs, but then dropped it for patent reasons, and is using VP8 and some other codecs.

What does it mean in real life? Not much. This only affects Chrome playing HTML5 video (Flash videos are not affected). If you found a site that only has HTML5 video, and only supported H.264 video, you couldn't see it with Chrome browser. Or you would have to install the Microsoft H.264 plugin for Chrome. So, in the very unlikely event that the site doesn't have a fallback for HTML4 video and plugins, you have ways around it anyway.

TL;DR Google is removing support for H.264 video codec on HTML5 video tags seen in Chrome. Since few sites force HTML5 only video, this will be a non-issue for the foreseeable future.

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