Cisco Making a Bid to Solve WebRTC Video Codec Battle
The vendor will open-source its H.264 implementation, hoping for consensus and backward-compatibility in WebRTC video.
One of the challenges as WebRTC rolls out has been the question of which video codec will be incorporated in the standard. Google, the creator and driving force behind WebRTC, included and has been pushing for the VP8 video codec, instead of the much more commonly-deployed H.264. In the meantime, licensing has been the main issue blocking H.264's inclusion in WebRTC. Now that obstacle has been removed.
Cisco announced today that it would take its internal H.264 implementation and open-source it under the BSD, and will compile the code into a "binary module" that can be included in any browser maker's implementation of WebRTC. Cisco further stated that Mozilla has agreed to do just this, effectively ensuring that H.264 encoding and decoding will be a part of future Firefox releases.
Jonathan Rosenberg, Cisco CTO of cloud collaboration, said that clearing the path for H.264 inclusion in WebRTC is the quickest and surest way to get to video interoperability with the standard.
"Like it or not, there’s just a lot of H.264 out there," Rosenberg told me in a phone briefing. All of Cisco’s current-generation video products are based on H.264, and "H.264 is the foundation for video on the Internet." He added that it "risks the success of WebRTC as a whole" if it doesn’t support H.264.
Rosenberg said, "We’re big fans [of WebRTC] but we’re struggling to use it because of this implementation"--i.e., the VP8-based versions currently out there. "From our perspective, WebRTC with VP8 is not really something we can build on," he continued. "It doesn't interoperate with stuff that's already in our cusomers' hands. It’s a problem."
Cisco will cover the licensing fees for Mozilla and any other company that implements its H.264 code, whether in WebRTC or other implementations, Rosenberg said.
Cisco's making its announcement in advance of next week's IETF meeting at which the question of the video codecs is due to be debated. The company is hoping that, with the licensing issue removed and the code open-sourced, H.264 will be adopted as Mandatory to Implement (MTI) for WebRTC.
Rosenberg also held out some hope that opening the door for H.264 to be included in the standard may also represent at least a step in bringing along the two major browser vendors who have so far held back from saying or doing much (at least publicly) with regard to the WebRTC standard: The list of authors for the document proposing H.264 for WebRTC includes representatives from both Apple and Microsoft, according to Rosenberg.
Though there was no direct indication from those companies that they are ready to throw their support behind WebRTC, their inclusion in the H.264 proposal appears to show some level of interest and agreement with the direction of the standard--assuming that Cisco's H.264 move carries the day at next week's IETF meeting.