Cisco Unlocks H.264 Codec, Opens Doors for Mozilla and Others

by Ostatic Staff - Oct. 30, 2013

Cisco and Mozilla have delivered an announcement that will greatly broaden the influence of the already popular H.264 video codec. Specifically, Cisco plans to open source the H.264 codec, and Mozilla plans to bake it into the Firefox browser for WebRTC use. The problem with H.264 until now is that using it in products has required royalty payments to MPEG LA, keeping it out of integration into most open source projects. In open sourcing its H.264 codec under the BSD License and making it a free binary module, Cisco will help bypass the licensing costs and broaden H.264's horizons.

Mozilla CTO Brendan Eich has been very vocal about this issue, and he has a blog post up about it that is worth reading.  He notes:

"Cisco has announced today that they are going to release a gratis, high quality, open source H.264 implementation — along with gratis binary modules compiled from that source and hosted by Cisco for download. This move enables any open source project to incorporate Cisco’s H.264 module without paying MEPG LA license fees."

"Cisco is going to release, under the BSD license, an H.264 stack, and build it into binary modules compiled for all popular or feasibly supportable platforms, which can be loaded into any application (including Firefox). The binary modules will be available for download from Cisco, and Cisco will pay for the patent license from the MPEG LA. Firefox will automatically download and install the appropriate binary module onto each user’s machine when needed, unless disabled in the user’s preferences."

As video proliferates on the web, the need for easy interoperability has risen, and Cisco's move represents a rising tide that will lift many boats. Most HTML5 streaming video is encoded with H.264, and most videoconferencing systems use it as well. Nearly all smartphones have H.264 chipsets.

Mozilla's Eich has also cleared up his company's stance toward the VP8 standard: "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."

It's likely that other video standards will continue to do well online, but unencumbered H.264 is likely to ensure a much higher level of interoperability for users.  That's good news.