Here’s a small nugget about Android 4.0, also known as Ice Cream Sandwich, that hasn’t gotten much play yet: The mobile OS now natively supports the playback of MKV files as well as streaming of Googe’s WebM video format (hat tip to Richard Lawler). The changes were announced through an updated list of supported media formats on the Android developer website.
MKV is an open container format for video files that has become particularly popular with people who download HD movies or TV shows from the Internet. However, don’t expect your Ice Cream Sandwich handset to natively play all your BitTorrent downloads; the MKV support in Android 4.0 is restricted to MKV files that use Google’s VP8 codec, which is also used in WebM.
Google released WebM under an open-source license in early 2010, which is based on the company’s VP8 video codec. The format has since slowly gained traction; YouTube, for example, has converted almost all of its videos to WebM, and Skype is using VP8 as its default codec for video conferencing.
Adding support for WebM streaming and VP8 MKVs shouldn’t matter as much to end users, but it should lead to an increased adoption of the formats among developers. VP8 has been optimized for real-time video applications, which means video conferencing app developers now have an option to rely on a royalty-free codec on new Android handsets.