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October 31, 2013

Mozilla Adds H.264 to Firefox as Cisco Moves to Make it Default Codec for WebRTC

Mozilla will be adding the H.264 codec to the Firefox browser following Cisco’s decision to make it open sourced.

The move comes as Cisco continues to advocate for H.264 to become the default codec for real-time communication (RTC) – despite resistance from Google. Cisco is pushing for industry bodies to reach an agreement on the WebRTC format. A key issue is which kind of video codec should be the standard in WebRTC video calls, according to a report from Webrtcworld.

Both Cisco and Ericsson want to see H.264 as the default codec for WebRTC. On the other hand, Google wants to see its VP8 codec as the default technology for WebRTC. Microsoft, meanwhile, appears to be supporting H.264.

“For many, VP8 seems the best bet since it is a royalty-free standard — an important characteristic for WebRTC,” writes Webrtcworld’s Rory Lidstone. “However, others argue that H.264’s wider support falls more in line with the WebRTC vision.”

Some of these issues may soon be ironed out. The Internet Engineering Task Force’s (IETF) WebRTC committee may be able to come up with agreement on default codec for WebRTC – soon. A meeting is scheduled for Nov. 7.

“We think this will help to push the edge over to H.264,” Cisco’s Collaboration CTO Jonathan Rosenberg told GigaOM.

Under the new plan, licensing fees to MPEG LA for using H.264 will be covered by Cisco. The company will also offer the codec as a download for different platforms, and developers will be able to add it to their apps, GigaOM explains.

As the debate continues, Google is reportedly on track to make the move to VP9 on Chrome. Moreover, another product, called Daala, which would compete with both VP9 and H.264, is also in the process of being developed by the Xiph.Org Foundation. 

Here’s some of what is known about Daala, thanks to a June 21, 2013 MozillaLine blog post.

“Daala is a new general-purpose video codec currently under development at Xiph.Org. Our performance target is roughly a generation beyond current 'next-generation' codecs like VP9 and HEVC, making Daala a next-next-generation effort. As with other Xiph codecs, the Daala format is and will always be royalty-free with a permissive FOSS license.” 

On May 30, 2013, a Daala prototype successfully encoded and decoded video streams. That same day, live Daala video was streamed over the Internet. However, some industry insiders say it could be four or five years for an actual product to surface.

As for now, Brendan Eich, Mozilla’s chief technology officer, recently said, “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.”

Mozilla is expected to add H.264 support during the first six months of next year.

Edited by Blaise McNamee
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