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The Age of Open Source Video Codecs

The first time I met Jim Barton (DVR pioneer and TiVo co-founder) I was a young man looking at the hottest company in Silicon Valley in the day: SGI, the place where Michael Jackson and Steven Spielberg just arrived to visit, the same building in Mountain View as it were, that same week in late Spring, 1995.

The second question that Jim asked me that day was if I knew H.263 – a fledgling, new specification promising to make video ubiquitous, affordable over any public or private network – oh, those 90’s seem so far away…

For a hard core database, kernel and compiler hacker, that was a bit too much telco chit-chat for me, though remembering this was supposed to be an interview, and that the person who asks the questions is in control, not knowing the answer, I managed to mumble a question instead of an answer.  Jim liked the conversation and obliged me with an explanation equally encrypted, that one day, we will have these really cool, ubiquitous players on all sorts of video devices, not just “geometry engines” running workstations in “Jurassic Park” post-production studios (actually, come to think of it, the scene itself), but over all sorts of networked devices and maybe that should be a great opportunity to dive into and change the world.

Open standards and open source live in an entangled relationship, or so I wrote about it years ago, the Yang of Open Standards, the Ying of Open Source.  Never has it been more intertwined and somewhat challenging than with the case of H.264, MPEG4 and the years old saga of so-called “standard” video codecs.

Almost a generation later, even if H.263 and its eventual successors H.264 and MPEG4 came a long way, we still don’t have a truly standard and open source implementation of such a video codec, though we are hoping to change that now!

My colleagues announced today that we are open sourcing our H.264 codec.  We still have a bit of work left to do as we start this new open source project and I am counting on both communities to receive it with “open” arms.  It is meant to remove all barriers, to be truly free and open, as open source was meant to be.

Please join us this morning in a twitter chat covering this event.  We are convinced no matter how one looks at this, it is a positive move for the industry.

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