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October 30, 2013

Cisco to Open Source H.264, Making it a More Attractive Choice for WebRTC

The dilemma over which video codec should become the standard for use in WebRTC video calls has gotten even more interesting. With the approaching IETF meeting on Nov. 7, where industry members are likely to discuss the video standard, Cisco seems to have put H.264 back on the WebRTC radar.

Put simply, the two major contenders for the role have been Google’s VP8 and the more commonly used H.264. For many, VP8 seems the best bet since it is a royalty-free standard — an important characteristic for WebRTC. However, others argue that H.264’s wider support falls more in line with the WebRTC vision.

Cisco, however, has proposed a very convincing solution as it is planning to open source the H.264 codec, while not passing on the royalties is must pay to MPEG-LA. In other words, the company is making the standard free to use in WebRTC conversations. If that wasn’t enough, Mozilla has thrown it support behind this strategy, deciding that Cisco’s decision would allow the Firefox browser and Firefox OS use H.264 for more tasks.

“It hasn’t been easy, but Mozilla has helped to lead the industry toward interoperable video on the Web,” said Brendan Eich, Mozilla’s chief technology officer, in a statement. “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.”

While VP8 is still an attractive option for WebRTC, it’s going to have a much tougher time being picked over H.264 now. Considering all of the trouble Google had to go through to clear issues around the codec, the company will be disappointed not to see its standard become the, well, standard.

Still, no lasting decisions have been made yet; we’ll have to wait until next week to see how this plays out.

Want to learn more about the latest in WebRTC? Be sure to attend WebRTC Conference & Expo, Nov. 19-21 in Santa Clara, Calif. Stay in touch with everything happening at WebRTC Conference & Expo. Follow us on Twitter.

Edited by Rachel Ramsey
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