Cisco and Mozilla today made a joint announcement that will see the popular H.264 video codec opened up to the broader Web. Cisco plans to open source its H.264 codec, while Mozilla is in turn promising to include it in future versions of Firefox.

H.264 has been the industry standard for years, but it unfortunately requires royalty payments to MPEG LA under terms that prevent distributing it with open source products. By open-sourcing its H.264 codec under the BSD license, and providing it as a binary module that can be downloaded for free, Cisco is choosing not to pass on its MPEG LA licensing costs, effectively making H.264 free for use in WebRTC.

For those who don’t know, WebRTC enables real-time communication (such as videoconferencing) in the browser without installing any plugins. It consists of three independent components: getUserMedia (provides access to the user’s webcam and microphone), PeerConnection (sets up calls with the ability to traverse NATs and firewalls), and DataChannels (establishes peer-to-peer data communication between browsers).

Cisco’s binary module with an H.264 stack built-in will be compiled for “all popular or feasibly supportable platforms” so that it can be loaded into any application via a simple download from Cisco. Mozilla says Firefox will automatically download and install the appropriate binary module onto each user’s machine when needed, unless disabled by the user in the browser’s preferences.

“Cisco has a long-standing history of supporting and integrating open standards, open formats and open source technologies as a model for delivering greater flexibility and interoperability to users,” Jonathan Rosenberg, Cisco CTO for Collaboration, said in a statement.” We look forward to collaborating with Mozilla to help bring H.264 to the Web and to the Internet.”

Dubbed the OpenH264 project, Cisco has asked Mozilla to help govern it so that other open-source projects can leverage the codec. Mozilla has meanwhile been working closely with Cisco on its own WebRTC implementation.

See also – WebRTC plus Social API: Mozilla demoes browser sharing in Firefox like you’ve never seen it before and Google and Mozilla show off video chat between Chrome and Firefox thanks to WebRTC support

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