Thursday, October 31, 2013

Firefox to run H.264 video

In a previous post I talked about the future of Flash in Linux, and looked at some of the possible alternatives. I mentioned HTML5 video as a possible alternative, and an issue with HTML5 video adoption: proprietary and non-proprietary formats.

Now Cisco has open sourced the H.264 codec (the proprietary codec used to encode most online video) and Firefox will run H.264 video in "the first half of 2014".
In a surprising twist, the future of open and standard HTML5 video is looking a lot brighter today, with Cisco's announcement of the release of a fully open source implementation of the H.264 codec.

 The code makes it possible for any open source project to add support for the video codec without paying any fee or signing any restrictive license with the MPEG-LA, the industry group that licenses the technology.

This is a major development, as the situation around the proprietary codec has been an important source of contention among browser makers to date.

Most video found online is encoded with H.264. That's not a problem for Flash video, since Flash Player supports the codec out of the box.

In theory, it's not a problem for HTML5 video either, as long as browsers agree to license the codec. In fact, the license is even free in many cases. But it is incompatible with open source projects like Firefox.

Mozilla refused to add support for H.264, though it could have afforded to pay the license, because it meant that downstream projects, which relied on Firefox, wouldn't have been able to get the entire Firefox source code under an open license.

Google came up with a potential solution, the WebM video format and the VP8 codec, which it open sourced and made available for free. But, several years after that, most videos found online are still encoded with H.264 and won't work in Firefox without external codecs.
Cisco worked with Mozilla to get this done, so it's no surprise that Mozilla is the first to make use of this new open H.264.

The browser maker has announced that it will be adding full support for H.264 in Firefox in the first half of 2014.

 Mozilla opted not to build the H.264 codec into the Firefox source code. Rather, if needed, the browser will be able to automatically download the binary code that Cisco is making available. Users will be able to disable this feature though.

What this means is that Firefox will be able to run any H.264 video it encounters on the web, plain HTML5 videos or even WebRTC streams, if H.264 becomes part of the WebRTC standard.

This could "widen support for web-based video chat":
WebRTC promises plugin-free video chat in our browsers, but it has been stuck in limbo due to format squabbles -- some companies want royalty-free standards like VP8, while others insist on the wider support of H.264. Today, Cisco is proposing a truce between the two camps. It's planning to open-source its H.264 codec without passing on the royalties it pays to MPEG-LA, effectively making the standard free when used in web conversations.
If all goes well, though, we won't have to fret much over the apps and devices we use for our video discussions.

No comments:

Post a Comment