The much hyped video standard has been dropped from HTML 5 standards specification due to lack of agreement between major browser vendors. While Opera and Firefox were enthusiastic about the implementation of the Ogg Theora as standard video codec, Apple was vehemently against it.
The proposed video tag (<video> </video>) envisioned to free Videos from their dependence on plugins. Any video enclosed between video tag would be played as a native element (e.g. images) by the browser. The only pre-condition being that the videos must be encoded in a chosen format. The frontrunner was royalty-free Ogg Theora codec with the patented H.264 codec being the other contender.
Opera was the first to actively promote the video tag. They released an experimental build that supported the video tag as far back as April, 2007. Recently (and more famously) Mozilla Firefox also included support for Video tag in Firefox 3.5. Google Chrome also included video support and bundled Ogg Theora as well as H.264.
Apple on the other hand refused to implement Ogg Theora due to lack of a hardware decoder. Hadware Decoder ensures reduced stress on the CPU and can make a big difference on mobile devices like the iPhone. Ofcourse there is also a clear case of conflict of interest. If Ogg Theora is accepted and the <video /> codec becomes a standard then Apple stands to loose as Quicktime video format would loose its importance.
The alternate codec proposed – H.264 isn’t royalty free and wasn’t acceptable to Opera, since the licensing costs would have been significant. Mozilla also refused to accept H.264, as they would not be able to obtain a license that covers their downstream distributors.
This is a disappointing turn of events. The WHAT (Web Hypertext Application Technology) working group has decided not to specify any codec as a standard. However, if Ogg Theora continues to develop and browser makers independently continue to implement the <video /> tag, then one day it may become the de-facto standard. Apple’s stubbornness may have cost HTML5 one of its most celebrated new features, but all hope is not lost for the web. I don’t see the <video /> tag dying. It will perhaps become like the <img /> tag, which continues to flourish even in absence of any standard and universally accepted format.
P.S. : If you are wondering why I haven’t mentioned Microsoft in this article, its because Microsoft has been rather silent during this whole debate and hasn’t taken any stand. If Microsoft does go ahead and implement <video /> tag in Internet Explorer 9 (wishful thinking?) then that may very well lead to it becoming a de-facto standard.