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Chromebooks can open most common video and audio files without downloading an external player, such as VLC Media Player from the Google Play Store. However, Google is now planning to drop two video formats from the list, as the company now deems them "uncommon legacy media formats."

Google just added a new experimental feature flag to the codebase for Chromium, the open-source project that serves as the base for Google Chrome, Chrome OS, and other projects. The description from the code commit explains, "Adds a new chrome://flags/#cros-legacy-media-formats switch so that users can control support for MPEG4+AVI content. The flag lifetime is set to be M120-M125, since M120 and M126 are the next two LTS releases respectively. Assuming there's not an inordinate amount of breakage, this flag and supporting code will be removed in M126."

The flag removes support for MPEG4 video streams and AVI from Chrome OS, presumably including both in-browser video and the basic video player found in the Files app. AVI is a proprietary video container format (not to be confused with AV1) originally created by Microsoft in 1992, and outside of archival files and early web videos, most people aren't going to run into AVI files these days. MPEG4 is a video codec that was commonly used in .MP4, .MOV, and .AVI container files, but it was largely replaced by H.264 around the mid-2000s. We're assuming Google is referring to older MPEG4 video here, not H.264 or other newer formats that are in the MPEG4 family—the feature flag and commit message isn't super clear, and the tracking issue for the change is not public.

This wouldn't be the first time Google has removed support for media formats on Chromebooks. The AMR audio codec and GSM audio files were dropped at some point, according to a support article, which are much less common than AVI or MPEG4. Chrome OS can still natively open most 3GP, MOV, MP4, M4V, M4A, MP3, MKV, OGV, OGM, OGG, OGA, WebM, and WAV media files, depending on the video and/or audio codec. However, dropping support for MPEG4 video encoding would cause more MP4, MOV, and 3GP files to not work.

The change will probably go unnoticed by most Chromebook owners, and if you run into a media file you can't open, it will probably still work with VLC Media Player. Google is planning to fully remove support for the formats in Chrome OS 126, which will be released sometime in 2024.

Source: Chromium Gerrit