Having WebRTC VP8 on hardware is going to take time. Here’s why.
If I had to select an Achilles heel for WebRTC it would definitely be hardware support. There are those that will say I am making a fuss of a non-existent problem, but working for over a decade in the video conferencing market, I can tell you that hardware support simplifies things and improves the end result.
WebRTC decided to take the path of patent free (or more accurately royalty free) codecs. This reflects on the selection of codecs: Opus for voice and a clear preference of Google for VP8 over H.264. If Google has its way and VP8 will be selected as the mandatory codec, then we are headed into a world of hardware headache.
H.264 is the dominant video codec on the market today. I don’t think there’s a single multimedia chip that supports video codecs without supporting H.264 – it is simply unheard of. Chip manufacturers have taken H.264 to the extreme – the fact that you can encode and decode video in 1080p resolutions (=high definition) on a smartphone without taking too much toll on the running applications can be attributed to this.
Today, if you are into any serious video compression, then you do it with hardware – software just doesn’t cut it. A quad-code Intel CPU can probably run high definition video compression, but it won’t be able to do much else in parallel. If video communication is what we are looking for, then the ecosystem to support it must include hardware.
Google understands that – it is why it is offering the intellectual property of a hardware encoder and decoder for VP8 practically for free. But even having that as a head start still means a year or two of development – it requires adding it to the chipset roadmap, doing the design, development, testing and then manufacturing of such chipsets.
It will take time for VP8 to become commonplace in chipsets, while at the same time, H.264 is widely available.
I wonder how the fight over the video codec will end for WebRTC, and will we have licensing headaches or hardware headaches once a decision is made.