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

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.
Written by Rachel King, Contributor on

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]."

Editorial standards