The developers of the open source h.264 codec x264 have just released an update that makes it possible to burn Blu-ray discs on regular DVD-9 or even DVD-5 DVD-Rs. x264 uses advanced compression to fit Blu-ray movies on much cheaper DVD-Rs “with a reasonable level of quality,” according to yesterday’s announcement. Most players will treat these discs like a regular Blu-ray disc.
x264 has gained some notoriety as the codec of choice for file sharers trading Blu-ray discs via BitTorrent, but it has also been used by a number of high-profile video platforms, including Facebook and YouTube (s GOOG), to encode their assets in h.264.
The x264 developers see the announcement as a step towards putting affordable high-quality Blu-ray authoring tools in the hands of end users. One should emphasize that it is only a first step. x264 can now output Blu-ray compliant streams, but there are no open source or freeware Blu-ray authoring tools available yet that would allow end users to create their own Blu-ray discs. From the x264 announcement:
“Despite the ‘format war’ between Blu-ray and HD DVD ending over two years ago, free software has lagged behind. ‘Professional’ tools for Blu-ray video encoding can cost as much as $100,000 and are often utter garbage. (…) But today, things change. Today we take the first step towards a free software Blu-ray creation toolkit.”
The project is celebrating the achievement with the release of a demo Blu-ray disc image encoded with x264 that contains HD versions of the Creative Commons-licensed movies Big Bucks Bunny and Elephant’s Dream, as well as some demo footage courtesy of Microsoft. The whole disc image is merely two gigs, demonstrating the ability to burn Blu-ray discs with a regular DVD burner.
There has been some controversy within the free software community about x264 in the past. The popular Linux distribution Debian decided against bundling x264 three years ago because h.264 is patented, but x264 developers point out that many other codecs and formats that are regularly part of free software have patents attached to them as well. MPEG LA, the group that licenses the h.264 patent pool, announced earlier this year that it will keep the h.264 streaming license free for another five years.
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