According to a Beet.TV interview with Erik Moller, deputy director of the Wikimedia Foundation, Wikipedia users will be getting new tools for uploading, editing and viewing video very soon. A source of debate, however, is the Web encyclopedia's choice of video format.
Wikipedia has been working on video support for years, and is putting considerable effort into making it easier for users to upload video and, specifically, to bridge a video-format divide. Moller said that, while Wikipedia is still planning to use Ogg Theora (an open-source video codec that can be played back natively inside the latest version of Firefox, and soon Chrome and Opera), there may be tools that will convert video shot in alternate formats so that no special software or user effort is required.
In the meantime, Wikipedia's solution is for users to make the conversion at their end. Moller said that one solution is Firefogg, a Firefox-only browser plug-in which can transcode user videos to Ogg Theora on the user's hardware.
One lingering issue concerning Wikipedia's slow move to video is its choice of codec. Codecs are the software modules that encode and decode audio and video, shrinking it down into sizes that can be more easily transmitted through the Web. Wikipedia's a large and very popular site, so that whatever video format it's using will have a big impact on the Web and its standards. Wikipedia's choice to go with Ogg Theora puts further stress on where browsers and site creators alike stand on HTML 5 video.
Unlike the H.264 codec, which has been promoted in both Google and Apple's products and services, Ogg Theora allows for downloading, remixing, and re-uploading without licensing fees. On the other hand, much of today's computing hardware (including newer mobile devices) comes equipped with on-board H.264 decoding, meaning less processing power is spent playing back the videos.
Microsoft, Apple, and Google have been less keen on promoting the Ogg Theora format in their browsers, and have put resources behind H.264 instead. Google's Chrome does support Ogg Theora, along with H.264, but Google has gone on the record as saying its quality isn't as good as it wanted. Google has also sunk considerable resources into re-encoding YouTube's entire library of videos into H.264, making the company less likely to switch camps.
Regardless, Web video has come a long way since earlier standards and competing formats. Pioneers like Macromedia (now Adobe) with its Flash format, and Apple with its streaming QuickTime standard have helped pave the way for a plethora of start-ups that rely on the latest codecs to create new and saleable parts of their businesses. The big question is whether open-sourced codecs like Ogg Theora will have the same kind of sticking power. Being the go-to format on one of the Web's most popular sites certainly won't hurt.