Cisco sets H.264 free(ish) with royalty-free video codec

Over the past few years H.264 has become a de facto standard for delivering high-quality videos with relatively small file sizes. It’s proven a popular format for delivering internet video and many of the videos you probably download to watch on a mobile device.

But there’s something that’s prevented its adoption from becoming truly ubiquitous: The H.264 codec is a closed-source codec and in order to use it in a software project, developers typically have to pay a royalty payment to MPEG-LA.

But Cisco plans to change that by releasing an open source version if its own H.264 codec which can be used for free.

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Cisco will foot the bill for the MPEG-LA licensing costs and offer a binary module that can be downloaded and used for free from the internet. This will basically let anyone build apps that use the H.264 codec without paying a license fee.

As Mozilla points out, it also means that any open source project that wants to use an H.264 module can use Cicsco’s license fee-free module. The web browser maker plans to add Cisco’s OpenH.264 binary modules to Firefox, enabling support for the codec in WebRTC video, among other applications — although Firefox will continue to support the VP8 codec as well.

The H.264 stack will be released under a BSD license.

While Cisco will be releasing binaries, it doesn’t look like the license will allow end users or developers to modify or redistribute the H.264 codec without paying license fees — but it will make H.264 a little more accessible.

Up until now, for instance, when you visited YouTube in the Google Chrome web browser you could use an HTML5 video player to stream videos in H.264 but if you tried the same thing in Firefox you would have to use Adobe Flash instead. That’s because Google paid for the H.264 license fee, while Mozilla did not. With Cisco’s H.264 binaries coming soon to Firefox, Cisco and Mozilla are putting another nail in the Adobe Flash coffin.


    Anything that helps kill flash is good in my book.

    • Mo

      Too bad H.264 is on the list of many reasons why Flash sucks.

  • John Morris

    A bandaid at best. Each user will have to go download the codec (or the Firefox installer will) from Cisco. And it will remain free only so long as Cisco is willing to pay the per download royalty. The open source of the BSD licensed code Cisco released doesn’t matter much, ffmpeg and many others already have fully open source encode/decode but that doesn’t get past the patent trap.

    Good to see they are already promising to host and pay royalties for less popular CPU platforms besides just ARM, X86_32 and X86_64.

  • Joe

    I hope this doesn’t affect next week’s Internet Engineering Task Force announcement of their
    plans to standardize on a common video codec for the WebRTC real-time
    API. I’d rather them go with VP8/9 or something that’s less hassle from the licensing and patents point of view.