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Summary: No consensus at IETF, but it’s not over yet

November 19, 2013 at 6:57 am PST

Recently Cisco made significant efforts around open sourcing our H.264 implementation, including covering the MPEG-LA licensing costs for distribution and working with Mozilla to add support for H.264. However, in this attempt to unstick the logjam that has occurred in the standards bodies, the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) failed to reach consensus on the selection of a common video codec.

Cisco’s Jonathan Rosenberg explored this topic more in a recent Collaboration blog post. Read on to find out how we’re planning to move forward and why this conversation is definitely not over!

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No Consensus at IETF, But It’s Not Over Yet

Cisco recently announced that we would open source our H.264 implementation under favorable open source terms, and more importantly, provide a binary distribution of that implementation that could be downloaded and integrated into browsers and other applications. We said we’d cover the MPEG-LA licensing costs for this distribution as well. Mozilla responded by saying that, based on this, they would add H.264 to Firefox, using our technology.

Part of our motivation for making this announcement was to unstick the logjam that has occurred in the standards bodies. The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) is defining the standards for how real-time voice and video will work natively in the browser. Selection of a common video codec is part of that process. The group has been highly divided on this topic, with two camps – one (including Cisco), in favor of industry standard H.264, and others in favor of Google’s VP8 technology.

We hoped that our announcement, and Mozilla’s agreement to support H.264 as a common codec, would provide enough impetus to sway the standards to a concrete decision so that the industry could move forward. Alas, that was not the case. Despite what we felt was a fairly objective analysis on the reasons why H.264 was a better choice for the overall success of real-time communications on the web (click here for a recording), the IETF failed to reach consensus.

Obviously, we’re very disappointed by this. Read More »

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From Product Strategy to Implementation

Looking at the history of video collaboration there are a few identifiable transition points.  The introduction of audio and video delivery over IP networks created opportunities for widespread affordable deployments and the video conferencing market began to expand.  The scale of deployments, however, was in general neither large nor pervasive.  In 2006/2007 new offerings (like the CTS 3000 from Cisco’s TelePresence team) introduced highly reliable, full HD (1080p), full motion (30fps) experiences with a level of simplicity making it operable by any user irrespective of technical knowledge.  As Full HD became available across the breadth of video conferencing platforms, the whole market rapidly doubled over the following two to three years.  This created another market pillar in collaboration.

Push the clock forward 6 or so years to today…

The distinction between video conferencing, unified communications and web conferencing is now very blurred:

  • The user community has matured.  They are no longer satisfied with connecting over audio, video or content.  They want to achieve the startup experience of small, tightly connected teams across a geographically dispersed workforce.  This means leveraging all of the above features where and when needed, in a simple and intuitive way.
  • IM, presence, audio, video and content collaboration are becoming Read More »

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Extending Video to the Web through Open Source H.264

Cisco has been a champion of video communications for a very long time. We are committed to seeing video communications from board room to cubicle, and from CEO to intern. To achieve this vision, we’ve been investing in video solutions from top-end immersive telepresence to video capable soft clients like Jabber. Unfortunately, the one place we haven’t been able to fully go is the web. Video communications is not possible natively in the browser – yet. Work has been progressing on addressing this through an extension to HTML5 called WebRTC. However, this activity has hit a speed bump due to disagreements on choosing a video codec for the browser. Cisco and many others support H.264, which is the foundation of our products and those of most of our competitors.

Today, Cisco has taken a bold step to bringing video to the web. 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. Furthermore, Mozilla has announced it will enable Firefox to utilize this module, Read More »

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Open-Sourced H.264 Removes Barriers to WebRTC

When it comes to making collaboration technology such as high-definition video open and broadly available, it’s clear that the web browser plays an important role. The question is, how do you enable real-time video natively on the Web? It’s a question that folks are anxious to have answered.

WebRTC--a set of enhancements to HTML5--will address the issue head on. But, there is an important hurdle that must first be cleared, and that’s standardizing on a common video codec for real-time communications on the web – something the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) will decide next week.

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.

I’m also pleased that Mozilla has announced it will enable Firefox to utilize this module, bringing real-time H.264 support to their browser.

“It hasn’t been easy, but Mozilla has helped to lead the industry toward interoperable video on the Web,” said Brendan Eich, Mozilla Chief Technology Officer. “Cisco’s announcement helps us support H.264 in Firefox on most operating systems, and in downstream and other open source distributions using the Cisco H.264 binary module. We are excited to work with Cisco on advancing the state of interoperable Web video.”

Why is Cisco Doing This? Read More »

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