Cisco to release free standard software to boost Web videoconferencing

Cisco will release its H.264 codec free of charge as open source

Web videoconferencing may get easier after a decision by Cisco Systems that should help bring widely used technology into browsers.

Cisco announced in a blog post Wednesday that it plans to make its codec based on the H.264 standard available as a free, open-source download from the Internet. Also on Wednesday, Mozilla said it would add the technology to Firefox.

H.264 is a standard for real-time video that is widely used by Cisco and other vendors. It hasn't become a native part of the major browsers because it requires royalty payments to MPEG LA, which licenses the technology. In order to make H.264 available for browsers, Cisco will not pass on its licensing costs for the codec.

Without a native codec in browsers that works with major videoconferencing platforms, users have had to download an application or plug-in before doing a video chat in a browser, said Nemertes Research analyst Irwin Lazar. That often means dealing with security settings that try to block new software, plus installing updates to the software over time. Google includes its own VP8 video codec free in the Chrome browser, but Microsoft, Apple and Mozilla have steered clear of VP8, Lazar said. H.264 is the standard that can get browser users connected to other videoconferencing platforms, he said.

Cisco wants to clear a path to getting H.264 included in WebRTC, a set of multimedia features in the HTML5 standard. The Internet Engineering Task Force is scheduled to choose a video codec for WebRTC at a meeting next week in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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