A flagrant FUD foul on Ogg Theora

Greg Maxwell posted an essay in response to an implausible claim by Google employee Chris DiBona on the WhatWG mailing list. That claim, which can be seen as FUD-filled, in part, reads:

Comparing Daily Motion to Youtube is disingenuous. If yt were to switch to theora and maintain even a semblance of the current youtube quality it would take up most available bandwidth across the internet.

I, like Greg, will concede that Theora has room for improvement, still; Greg characterizes Theora as “competitive” when judging “[b]y conventional criteria” and I would agree.

Greg also states:

I do not believe Chris intended to deceive anyone, only that he is a victim of the same outdated and/or simply inaccurate information that has fooled many others.

Then, he goes on to compare the same video converted to YouTube format versus the same video encoded to a comparable Ogg/Theora+Vorbis file (the Ogg/Theora+Vorbis files are slightly smaller). The reference footage he uses is the first 5 minutes (approx.) of Big Buck Bunny.

I believe the higher resolution Ogg/Theora+Vorbis file to be at least as good as its YouTube H.264 MP4 counterpart; apparently I’m not the only one. (I have not viewed the lower resolution files yet.)

Ogg Theora was in alpha for so long after its initial announcement that many people forgot about it or never took it seriously. As of 2008-11-03, the public release (i.e. production quality) version of Theora is out there; combined with the previous releases of Vorbis, Speex, and FLAC, most needs of unencumbered audio and video codecs are satisfied. The only thing Theora does not do well is high-bitrate/archival-quality video; the future release of Dirac as an Ogg-contained codec is intended to fill this gap.

Some notes for those confused by some of the above:

  • The use of “Ogg/Theora+Vorbis” is a more technical way of specifying what exactly is in a “standard” Ogg Theora file. Theora is a video codec; without Vorbis one would only have a silent movie. It is also possible to create Theora+Speex or even theoretically Theora+FLAC movies.
  • Vorbis is roughly comparable to MP3Pro, AAC (Advanced Audio Codec, used in high-bitrate form on DVDs), and WMA (Windows Media Audio). Vorbis usually outperforms MP3 given identical bitrates.
  • Speex is a lower-bitrate codec used for speech encoding. It can be used with the Ogg container format for storage but is more often directly transmitted over the Internet (via UDP/RTP).
  • FLAC is a lossless codec primarily used for archival purposes. You may find it easier to think of it as a “gzip (or bzip2) for audio.” The reason for FLAC is that Vorbis and Speex are both lossy (the decoded output is not the same quality as the input).
  • Ogg is a container format, similar to AVI, Quicktime, Matroska, etc. In theory one can also embed Theora, Vorbis, etc. in these other container formats; outside of Matroska this is rarely done and sometimes fraught with problems (particularly in the case of Vorbis in AVI).