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Cisco open-sources H.264 decoder to be used in Mozilla Firefox

by Alex Blewitt on Oct 30, 2013 |

Cisco has announced that they plan to open-source their H.264 codec and provide pre-compiled binaries available. In addition, they will not pass on any charges relating to the MPEG LA licenses. From the announcement:

The industry has been divided on the choice of a common video codec for some time, namely because the industry standard--H.264--requires royalty payments to MPEG LA. Today, I am pleased to announce Cisco is making a bold move to take concerns about these payments off the table.

We plan to open-source our H.264 codec, and to provide it as a binary module that can be downloaded for free from the Internet. Cisco will not pass on our MPEG LA licensing costs for this module, and based on the current licensing environment, this will effectively make H.264 free for use in WebRTC.

These binaries will be added to Mozilla Firefox under the BSD license, providing for a standard video decoder across all browsers and operating systems where Firefox is available. From the Mozilla blog:

We are grateful for Cisco’s contribution, and we will add support for Cisco’s OpenH.264 binary modules to Firefox soon. These modules will be usable by downstream distributions of Firefox, as well as by any other project. In addition, we will work with Cisco to put the OpenH264 project on a sound footing and to ensure that it is governed well. We have already been collaborating very closely with Cisco on our WebRTC implementation, and we are excited to see Cisco deepening their commitment to the Open Web.

Interoperability is critical on the Internet, and H.264 is the dominant video codec on the Web. The vast majority of HTML5 streaming video is encoded using H.264, and most softphones and videoconferencing systems use H.264. H.264 chipsets are widely available and can be found in most current smartphones, including many Firefox OS phones. Firefox already supports H.264 for the video element using platform codecs where they are available, but as noted in my last blog post on the topic, not all OSes ship with H.264 included. Provided we can get AAC audio decoders to match, using Cisco’s OpenH264 binary modules allows us to extend support to other platforms and uses of H.264.

While Cisco’s move helps add H.264 support to Firefox on all OSes, we will continue to support VP8, both for the HTML video element and for WebRTC. VP8 and H.264 are both good codecs for WebRTC, and we believe that at this point, users are best served by having both choices.

A tweetchat is planned for 9:30am PDT on October 30th from @rowantrollope on Twitter, and next week the IETF will decide in WebRTC next week.

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