Voice and video communications over IP have become ubiquitous over the last decade, pervasive across desktop apps, mobile apps, IP phones, video conferencing endpoints, and more. One big barrier remains: users can’t collaborate directly from their web browser without downloading cumbersome plugins for different applications. WebRTC – a set of extensions to HTML5 – can change that and enable collaboration from any browser. However, one of the major stumbling blocks in adoption of this technology is a common codec for real-time video.
The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) have been working jointly to standardize on the right video codec for WebRTC. Cisco and many others have been strong proponents of the H.264 industry standard codec. In support of this, almost a year ago Cisco announced that we would be open sourcing our H.264 codec and providing the source code, as well as a binary module that can be downloaded for free from the Internet. Perhaps most importantly, we announced that we would not pass on our MPEG-LA licensing costs for this binary module, making it effectively free for applications to download the module and communicate with the millions of other H.264 devices. At that time, Mozilla announced its plans to add H.264 support to Firefox using OpenH264.
Since then, we’ve made enormous progress in delivering on that promise. We open sourced the code, set up a community and website to maintain it, delivered improvements and fixes, published the binary module, and have made it available to all. This code has attracted a community of developers that helped improve the software and use it in their projects; over 200 people outside of Cisco are actively working with the code, and many others have freely made copies. The code has also found its way into other products. For example, Ericsson recently open sourced their WebRTC implementation, which utilizes OpenH264 code.
According to Stefan Håkansson from Ericsson, “We’re really happy about Cisco’s open sourcing of OpenH264 as it makes it easier for implementations to support the H.264 industry standard video codec. We’re using OpenH264 ourselves in our open source WebRTC implementation “OpenWebRTC”, and the GStreamer community has in turn adopted our OpenH264 plugin – it is really nice to see how the communities work together to enable the use of H.264.”
I’m pleased to announce that our work has come to full completion with today’s latest release of Firefox, which will automatically download and use Cisco’s OpenH264 binary module. To realize this, Cisco has been working closely with Mozilla over the past months. Mozilla has been a fantastic partner to work with, helping make improvements and bug fixes on the path to bringing this capability to millions of Firefox users.
“Cisco is an invaluable partner for Mozilla. Together we are helping to lead the industry toward interoperable video on the Web,” said Andreas Gal, Mozilla Chief Technology Officer. “Cisco’s contribution and distribution of OpenH264 enables Internet-connected devices to use the most common video format without royalty payments. This is a victory for the Open Web and hundreds of millions of Firefox users will enjoy the benefits of cross-platform WebRTC-enabled applications.”
I’m also pleased to announce that Cisco and Mozilla worked together to add screen-sharing APIs to utilize H.264. This critical capability will open the door for standards-based interoperability with the vast amounts of existing products that already utilize H.264 for content sharing in meetings.
The topic of a standardized codec will once again be addressed by the IETF in its November meeting. It is our hope that announcements like the one today will increase adoption and help pave the way for a decision, enabling the industry to move ahead with complete voice and video capabilities from any browser, on any device.