Cisco Open Sourcing H.264 Fuels Debate Over Video Codecs

By Jeffrey Burt  |  Posted 2013-11-01 Print this article Print

The VP8 codec has other issues around it besides Cisco's open sourcing of its H.264 implementation, according to Irwin Lazar, an analyst with Nemertes Research. H.264 is much more widely used in both endpoints and video software, and using VP8 in WebRTC on H.264-enabled devices would make it more difficult and time-consuming for those with H.264-enabled devices. In addition, Nokia has filed lawsuits against Google over ownership of VP8, creating the possibility that VP8 may not always be royalty-free.

However, Cisco's effort faces its own competitive challenges, including whether Apple and Microsoft—which Lazar said have been undecided between H.264 due to the royalties and VP8, which is supported by rival Google—will go along with it, he wrote in a post on the Nemertes blog. At the same time, Microsoft and Cisco are competitors in the unified communications (UC) market.

"For Cisco's gamble to pay off, [Microsoft, Apple and Google] will have to embrace Cisco's open source module and embed it into their browsers," Lazar wrote. "But again, competitive dynamics often rule the day. For Google to accept H.264 means making its own code irrelevant. [As UC rivals,] will Microsoft embrace Cisco's approach or could it copy Cisco and offer its own H.264 with it too paying the license fee (and would its H.264 implementation be compatible with Cisco's?) While these scenarios will play out over the next few months, Cisco has given WebRTC momentum a tremendous shove forward. The next move is in the hands of Apple, Google and Microsoft."

Monty Montgomery, a developer at Mozilla who has been working on that company's Daala open codec, said he was reluctantly declaring H.264 the winner over VP8.

"Let's state the obvious with respect to VP8 vs H.264: We lost, and we're admitting defeat," Montgomery wrote in his blog. "Cisco is providing a path for orderly retreat that leaves supporters of an open web in a strong enough position to face the next battle, so we're taking it. By endorsing Cisco's plan, there's no getting around the fact that we've caved on our principles. That said, principles can't replace being in a practical position to make a difference in the future."

However, he said Cisco's move is a "stopgap" that does nothing to "address any licensing issues surrounding the next generation of video codecs. We've merely kicked the can down the road and set a dangerous precedent for next time around. And there will be a next time around."


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