H.264 support arrives in Firefox, thanks to Cisco — but H.264 web videos still won’t play

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Credit: Corbis / Heide Benser

Hell has frozen over, as Mozilla officially added support for the proriertary H.264 video codec to its open source Firefox browser Tuesday. The implementation of H.264 is done with help from Cisco, which is providing Firefox users with a binary component that can be downloaded once the newest version, 33, of Firefox is installed on a user’s system. However, H.264 videos still won’t play natively in Firefox — the new component is only being used for WebRTC-based video chat.

first announced their collaboration on H.264 a year ago

However, browser and teleconferencing vendors are split on which video format to use for next-generation video chat services. Google has been pushing the industry to adopt VP8, the video format it open sourced back in 2010. Cisco and others instead have been favoring H.264, which is supported by legacy video conferencing hardware, but could require companies to pay licensing fees, and is covered by a number of patents — usually a big no-no for open source projects.

Mozilla has traditionally been in the open source and open codec camp, but changed course last year. Mozilla’s Chief Technology Officer Andreas Gaal explained the change of heart it this way in a blog post Tuesday:

Gaal also noted that Mozilla is continuing to support open codecs, and is in fact developing a next generation video codec right now.

However, Mozilla’s embrace of H.264 comes with an important caveat. The binary component provided by Cisco doesn’t actually support all flavors of H.264, if you will, but only a more basic set of features used for real-time video applications (for media codec enthusiasts: it’s only capable of decoding streams encoded with H.264’s constrained baseline profile). This means that HD video streams encoded in H.264 still won’t play natively in Firefox. Said Gaal: “We will reconsider this once support (for high-profile H.264 streams) has been added.”

4 Comments

John Willkie

This article wrongly implies that VP8 contains no patents and does not require payment. That is a provable lie: Google paid MPEG-LA money after the fact due to the infringement of MPEG patents by VP8. If Google had paid such fees without any infringement, then the payments would have been extortionate.

Yet, the reality-distortion-field continues unabated.

One is always best off to not “report” on matters that one does not fully understand. Such offenses are trebled when you take the false assertions of one party as “fact.”

John

And yet Mozilla supports MP3, which is still patent encumbered in the USA.

A B

Additionally, if my understanding is correct, H.264 video playback is unavailable because the audio track of such videos is generally encoded using the AAC codec, and that requires separate licensing from the video codec which Mozilla has not negotiated.

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