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Walkthrough Wednesdays

Open-Sourced H.264 Removes Barriers to WebRTC

Lisa Latour
Frequent Contributor
Rowan Trollope
Rowan Trollope |  October 30, 2013 at 5:00 am PST

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.

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