Cisco open sources H.264 codec to draw attraction to WebRTC

Cisco open sources H.264 codec to draw attraction to WebRTC

Summary: Cisco and Mozilla reps declared that the free, open distribution of the codec enables streaming of real-time online video from the browser without plugins.


Tapping into one of the biggest trends in information technology this year, Cisco will be open sourcing its H.264 codec for high-definition online video.

The codec will be available to download for free as a binary module for use with the open source project WebRTC. Cisco noted that it will not pass on its MPEG LA licensing costs for this module.

Mozilla has already signed up as one of the first supporters of Cisco's new strategy here by adding support for the OpenH.264 binary modules to Firefox.

Cisco and Mozilla reps declared that the free and open distribution of the H.624 codec means that these two tech entities can collaborate to stream real-time online video from the browser without plugins.

On the surface, the most obvious use cases might be consumer and entertainment-related. But with networking giant Cisco in mind, it could also fit in line with the company's video conferencing solutions and business strategies.

Rowan Trollope, senior vice president and general manager of Cisco's Collaboration Technology Group, also hinted at another motivation in a blog post on Wednesday morning.

Often used as a soapbox by tech giants demonstrating their open source loyalties, Trollope defended another case of promoting industry standards.

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.

Mozilla CTO Brendan Eich concurred in a separate blog post, reflecting that there have been open source versions of the H.264 years, suggesting now is the time for a universal standard.

Interoperability is critical on the Internet, and H.264 is the dominant video codec on the Web. The vast majority of HTML5 streaming video is encoded using H.264, and most softphones and videoconferencing systems use H.264. H.264 chipsets are widely available and can be found in most current smartphones, including many Firefox OS phones.

Eich acknowledged that "this is not a not a complete solution," adding that Mozilla is in the process of developing a "fully open next generation codec" with the goal of leapfrogging "H.265 and VP9, building a codec that will be both higher-quality and free of encumberances [sic]."

Topics: Open Source, Cisco, Networking, Unified Comms, Web development

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  • Binary?

    If they are releasing the binary, then it isn't open source. They might be giving it away for free and covering users under their H.264 licence, but binary != source code != open source.

    Still a great move though.
    • Yea, wrong heading

      This is as in free beer & not really open source. They are just giving the binary for free & probably paying MPEG LA for each download or whatever. The source code doesn't look like being available.
  • Chipsets and acceleration

    that is the key to H.264's success. The acceleration for generating and interpreting H.264 is built into most graphic chipsets these days, nearly all video cameras support it, smartphones (even Android, whose Google is pushing WebM uses H.264) etc.

    At the current time any other codec is going to struggle to gain support, because there are no cameras for, for example, WebM, so you have to take compressed H.264 video and recompress it, losing more fidelity, into WebM. The only place WebM has a level playing field is animation and computer generated imagery. But the playback is going to be less efficient and require more processing power and therefore more battery life or electricity until they can convince hardware manufacturers to include optimisation for their codec in hardware.

    I think, in order to truly beat H.264, the competitors musn't compete against H.264 in the current market, they should be looking beyond H.264 to the next generation of video encoding, where they can get a jump start and establish themselves as the next standard.
  • binary != source code != open source

    Agree, binary != source code != open source, but for Cisco it is already a great move. According to my Cisco supplier, Cisco still is not so open compare to others, using many private protocols on their cisco Switch.
    Emma Lee
    • cisco switch

      More cisco switch discount news:
      Emma Lee