Cisco has recently announced that it will make the H.264 codec available for free. As someone who knows the industry and the technologies, I immediately get excited about this news. But, I know many others who have asked “what the heck does this mean and why should I care?” I will try to quickly summarize and let you know why this is a good thing.
WebRTC is an emerging technology that makes it possible to do video collaboration over the internet very easily. It can be embedded in web pages and is very easy for developers to use. Google and Firefox are leading the deployment by using this in their solutions, meaning that it could become a leading standard for video on the internet.
The current/previous issue with WebRTC is that it is not a complete, ratified standard. There is a lot of argument about what some of the core technologies/standards used as part of WebRTC should be. One major concern is interoperability with other video collaboration solutions and technologies. For interoperability, the simple answer would be to use standard codecs (video encoding technologies, or “video engines” if you will) like H.264 as the core for WebRTC. However, developers have pushed back against this due to the fact that H.264 is a patented technology owned by someone (MPEG LA) that charges a royalty for use. With the potential scale of deployment, these royalties could be significant for small developers and startups. So, developers were pushing for free open-source technologies, but this would mean less interoperability.
Cisco has now announced that they will essentially cover the royalties and make the H.264 source code available to developers for free. This move is a great thing for the industry. This means that the royalty fees are no longer an inhibitor to using H.264 as a core technology in WebRTC. Hopefully this will allow the ratification of WebRTC as a true standard to move more quickly. And hopefully it will mean that WebRTC will have H.264 embedded. This remains to be seen, but is now much more likely. This will mean a huge proliferation of apps and websites with standards based video collaboration embedded, allowing them to connect with the millions of standards based video systems deployed around the world.
With Polycom's vision of video being ubiquitous, this now opens the gates further to this becoming a reality. This is great for our customers as we strive to make simple, high quality collaboration available for everyone. This will open up an amazing world of possibilities for how we can use collaboration to improve the business of our customers and the lives of the users.
It is great to see Cisco joining the standards party. Polycom has been providing royalty free video and audio technologies available to the industry and standards bodies for decades (G.722, G.719, H.264SVC) and it is good to see others doing it as well.
So, that is my simple man take on this news. Techies, please forgive me if I have oversimplified or made some technical errors or stretches. Don't blame me, I'm a marketing guy after all!
If you would like to get more insight into this news, please see these entries from the Polycom Techie Blog: