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?
Many, including Cisco, have been backing H.264, the industry standard which today powers much of the video on the Internet. We strongly believe that interoperability is an essential goal of standards activities and that usage of H.264 by WebRTC means it will be able to interconnect, without transcoding, to a large set of existing clients from a multitude of vendors.
Regarding H.264, Jan Färjh, Vice President, Head of Standardization and Industry at Ericsson, states: “Support in WebRTC for H.264 enables interoperability with most video-capable mobile devices, which is great for industry acceptance.”
Finally, if you’ve read my blog or attended our recent annual Collaboration Summit, you will have heard our mission for Cisco Collaboration: Create rich collaboration technologies that are incredibly easy to use and make that technology broadly available to everyone in the world – from the largest companies to the smallest businesses. That’s what we would like to see happen with WebRTC, powered by an industry standard that is already prevalent in the market place.
We hope and believe that this step of open-sourcing our H.264 codec will enable the industry to move forward on WebRTC and have the best of all worlds: interoperability with the large installed base of H.264 endpoints, combined with an open‐source and effectively free codebase. This action also underscores our commitment to simplicity, for the greater benefit of developers, users, and vendors alike.
I’d love to start a dialogue on this which is why I’m inviting you to attend a TweetChat I’m hosting (@rowantrollope) later today, Wednesday, October 30 at 9:30 a.m. PDT. The hashtag is #collabchat. Cisco Fellow Cullen Jennings (@cfluffy), Cisco Collaboration CTO Jonathan Rosenberg (@jdrosen2) and Snorre Kjesbu (@KjesbuSnorre), Vice-President of Cisco’s Collaboration Endpoint Technology Group, will join me in the conversation. I also welcome your comments on this blog.