H.264 video codec standard to stay royalty-free

MPEG LA announced earlier today that they would make H.264 permanently royalty-free, to keep business and consumers' minds at ease.

The codec standard was developed to reduce bit rates over the previous codec standards, and is widely used in web applications, software and even hardware. H.264 is found in a variety of things from YouTube, iTunes, Blu-Ray discs and supported software such as Microsoft Silverlight and Adobe Flash Player.

Many developers worried that the H.264 standard would eventually start collecting royalties just to use it, but MPEG LA assured developers that it would permanently make H.264 royalty-free.

Today's announcement means that Opera and Mozilla Firefox will now be able to adopt the video codec standard without worrying of paying royalties, joining browsers like Internet Explorer 9, Safari 5 and Chrome in using the codec standard. This change could make H.264 the video format standard for HTML5. Both Opera and Mozilla announced they would be supporting the open-source Ogg Theora video codec.

Both Microsoft and Apple own patents in the H.264 standard, while Google owns and develops VP8/WebM, another royalty-free video codec standard.

Thanks to +Mephistopheles for the news tip!

Report a problem with article
Previous Story

Hillcrest Labs brings LG Magic Motion Remote to reality

Next Story

Microsoft Kinect shipped to testers

52 Comments

Commenting is disabled on this article.

Personally I hope that WebM would still become the de facto standard for video on the web, because anyone could write a decoder and embed it in their programs without having to pay for a license. The royalty-free portion only apply to the freely-distributed videos on the web, not for the softwares that decodes it.

Mozilla would then have three choices
1- Pay the license and integrate H.264 video decoding
2- Use an already licenced decoder (OS-based decoder if available)
3- Avoid H.264 entirely, and push for Theora/WebM support

However seeing how it goes, I guess that H.264 might become the standard and Mozilla would take a step back compared to the other browsers if they don't support H.264.

m-p{3} said,
Personally I hope that WebM would still become the de facto standard for video on the web, because anyone could write a decoder and embed it in their programs without having to pay for a license. The royalty-free portion only apply to the freely-distributed videos on the web, not for the softwares that decodes it.

Mozilla would then have three choices
1- Pay the license and integrate H.264 video decoding
2- Use an already licenced decoder (OS-based decoder if available)
3- Avoid H.264 entirely, and push for Theora/WebM support

However seeing how it goes, I guess that H.264 might become the standard and Mozilla would take a step back compared to the other browsers if they don't support H.264.


Or they could just partner with Adobe and proxy the H.264 videos through the Flash Player, which as of 10.1 is fully hardware accelerated
Might be a dangerous move, but will get them H.264 for free*

manosdoc said,
Goodbye Flash...
Goodbye Adobe.

Hallo IE9, H.264 HD accelerated !


Adobe has more to offer than Flash... Oh and I don't use anything from than except Flash and PDF...

MFH said,

Adobe has more to offer than Flash... Oh and I don't use anything from than except Flash and PDF...

You enjoy waiting half a minute for a PDF to open?

AfroTrance said,
You enjoy waiting half a minute for a PDF to open?
Basically immediate for me. Remember the PDF does actually need to download before it displays.

AfroTrance said,

You enjoy waiting half a minute for a PDF to open?

Your computer must suck. Adobe Reader 9 launches immediately for me and my pc is old.

manosdoc said,
Goodbye Flash...
Goodbye Adobe.

Hallo IE9, H.264 HD accelerated !

Flash is still used for a bit more than videos. Navigation comes to mind. It will be a while before Flash disappears.

Now what were people saying about Ogg Theora and MebM/VP8? I think H.264 will become the HTML5 standard since it has both Apple and Microsoft behind it. That has serious relevance since those two companies control virtually all of the consumer OS market.

asdavis10 said,
Now what were people saying about Ogg Theora and MebM/VP8? I think H.264 will become the HTML5 standard since it has both Apple and Microsoft behind it. That has serious relevance since those two companies control virtually all of the consumer OS market.

Also blu ray is h264

bb10 said,

No, blu-ray can use 3 different video codecs. H.264, VC-1 and MPEG2.

True but all the Blu-Ray videos I have been picking up end up decoding as H.264.

webm has improved a bit since it first was open sourced but h264 is still better in terms of quality.

Lets hope mozilla pay up for h264 licensing

torrentthief said,
webm has improved a bit since it first was open sourced but h264 is still better in terms of quality.

Lets hope mozilla pay up for h264 licensing

It has nothing to due with paying. Firefox would cease to be an open source application (at least under the licenses it currently uses) if it packaged that codec.

geoken said,

It has nothing to due with paying. Firefox would cease to be an open source application (at least under the licenses it currently uses) if it packaged that codec.

Why, h264 is just a documented standard, there's no code. They might be able to release the sourcecode.

geoken said,

It has nothing to due with paying. Firefox would cease to be an open source application (at least under the licenses it currently uses) if it packaged that codec.


Why package an additional codec if the OS already has a fine one?

geoken said,

It has nothing to due with paying. Firefox would cease to be an open source application (at least under the licenses it currently uses) if it packaged that codec.

Eh.. no. They don't get a codec. They only pay for the license to ship a codec (decoder, encoder or both).

So they can just use an open source decoder. But they still have to pay for the license.

MFH said,

Why package an additional codec if the OS already has a fine one?

Windows XP and Windows Vista do not come with a built-in codec. And it's a lot easier to bundle a codec with a browser than to make someone go install a codec on their own or upgrade an operating system (remember that one of the many points of browsers implementing HTML5 is the avoidance of outside plugins to do basic, simple things that a browser really should be able to do on it's own like play a video). Relying on an outside codec also opens a browser to needed to test for multiple configurations as well as forcing web developers to not assume that a H.264 video can be played even if the HTML5 video tag is supported.

dagamer34 said,
Relying on an outside codec also opens a browser to needed to test for multiple configurations as well as forcing web developers to not assume that a H.264 video can be played even if the HTML5 video tag is supported.
Just like how developers don't assume Flash or Java is installed on their target users system?
I'm sure Mozilla has/could find a partner in the A/V sector, such as MPlayer or VLC and ask them to publish a plugin-dll purely for Mozilla apps (which Mozilla devs may have even written the code for). Then first time you try to play .h264 in a video tag it gives you their standard "find missing plugins" thing to fetch it.
I know this is sort of a long-way-around of doing it, but it means that Mozilla then avoid the whole license thing as as the plugin is coming via somewhere that already has that covered.

dagamer34 said,

Windows XP and Windows Vista do not come with a built-in codec. And it's a lot easier to bundle a codec with a browser than to make someone go install a codec on their own or upgrade an operating system (remember that one of the many points of browsers implementing HTML5 is the avoidance of outside plugins to do basic, simple things that a browser really should be able to do on it's own like play a video). Relying on an outside codec also opens a browser to needed to test for multiple configurations as well as forcing web developers to not assume that a H.264 video can be played even if the HTML5 video tag is supported.

Anyone still using XP is only causing trouble for themselves. Vista has H.264 support if you install the Platform Update Supplement. IE9 will need this too on Vista.

geoken said,

It has nothing to due with paying. Firefox would cease to be an open source application (at least under the licenses it currently uses) if it packaged that codec.


Huh? So package ffmpeg then. There's no need to package a closed source implementation of H.264.

bb10 said,

Anyone still using XP is only causing trouble for themselves. Vista has H.264 support if you install the Platform Update Supplement. IE9 will need this too on Vista.

What a ridiculous thing to say. I continue to use XP on more than one machine because it's very good at being (comparatively) lightweight and keeping out of my way. Do I need Aero and Media Center on my work machine? Do I heck!

Northgrove said,
Huh? So package ffmpeg then. There's no need to package a closed source implementation of H.264.
The problem is not one of source code. The problem is that the standard itself is covered by numerous patents, which means it is against the law to implement it without permission of the patent holders. This applies equally to all implementations, regardless of whether they are open source or not.

Northgrove said,

Huh? So package ffmpeg then. There's no need to package a closed source implementation of H.264.

You mean package the ffmpeg that uses special 'unofficial' builds which are hosted off shore and implicitly tell you that these specific builds are probably illegal if you leave in North America since it infringes on patents for H.264 and Mp3?

I don't see how it's viable for Firefox to package an application (or a version of an application) which states, in not so many words, that it's illegal in at least Canada, The UK and USA?

tomjol said,

What a ridiculous thing to say. I continue to use XP on more than one machine because it's very good at being (comparatively) lightweight and keeping out of my way. Do I need Aero and Media Center on my work machine? Do I heck!

It is not. You can continue using it, but it is outdated. Expect software to drop support for XP in the near future. IE9 and Windows Live Essentials already do.

I wonder if they would have announced this if WebM wasn't gaining traction? It's still proprietary junk though, and in the end, open source, patent unencumbered codecs will always win.

LoveThePenguin said,
I wonder if they would have announced this if WebM wasn't gaining traction? It's still proprietary junk though, and in the end, open source, patent unencumbered codecs will always win.

I dunno, H.264 is a pretty good codec as far as quality goes. WebM really hasn't been proven. Plus there are so many devices now that support H.264 acceleration, that foundation is hard to migrate from.

LoveThePenguin said,
I wonder if they would have announced this if WebM wasn't gaining traction? It's still proprietary junk though, and in the end, open source, patent unencumbered codecs will always win.

You better stop posting, your CPU is "proprietary junk".

LoveThePenguin said,
I wonder if they would have announced this if WebM wasn't gaining traction? It's still proprietary junk though, and in the end, open source, patent unencumbered codecs will always win.

Because Theora is the king of codecs right? Oh wait...

Athernar said,

You better stop posting, your CPU is "proprietary junk".


What does the CPU have to do with video playback? Sir, you are living in the modern age, please behave!
Video playback is a GPU only task.

Udedenkz said,

What does the CPU have to do with video playback? Sir, you are living in the modern age, please behave!
Video playback is a GPU only task.

Actually, it's a VPU task.

bb10 said,

Actually, it's a VPU task.

Not if you use Ogg...Ogg is a CPU task as the hardware doesn't support it!

mog0 said,

Not if you use Ogg...Ogg is a CPU task as the hardware doesn't support it!

Anything that can't be GPU accelerated is a CPU task. At this point WMV, HD, H.264, and a few other select items can be GPU accelerated. Some video players can GPU accelerate just about anything fed through it though.

LoveThePenguin said,
I wonder if they would have announced this if WebM wasn't gaining traction? It's still proprietary junk though, and in the end, open source, patent unencumbered codecs will always win.

So stuff that works but isn't open source is now junk? Really?

Oh, open source always win. That's why OGG has totally been going places the last decade, right? Figures that your comments still don't have much in the way of logic.

Udedenkz said,

What does the CPU have to do with video playback? Sir, you are living in the modern age, please behave!
Video playback is a GPU only task.

LoveThePenguin hates "propriatery crap", assuming he has a general spec PC like 99.9% of people out there his CPU will be a "patent encumbered" design running on Intel Corp's proprietary x86 instruction set.

Wasn't too hard to figure out now was it? Engage your brain next time please.

LoveThePenguin said,
I wonder if they would have announced this if WebM wasn't gaining traction? It's still proprietary junk though, and in the end, open source, patent unencumbered codecs will always win.

Like OGG won against mp3?

Mozilla would be able to adopt it... if it wasn't still $5 million a year.
End users pay nothing, but of course, we've never had to because companies like Microsoft pay that price for us.

billyea said,
Mozilla would be able to adopt it... if it wasn't still $5 million a year.
End users pay nothing, but of course, we've never had to because companies like Microsoft pay that price for us.

End users do pay for it, it's called the license fee for the OS. Supporting proprietary software always hurts the end users eventually because once they get a strangehold on the market they can dictate the prices and prevent competition a la microsoft.

Even if it's not an ideal solution, Firefox could just use the Microsoft H.264 decoder. It's free and licensed for all 7 and Vista users. There is no actual _technical_ reason why they can't support it on those platforms, but Mozilla obviously has other issues with it as well.

hdood said,
Even if it's not an ideal solution, Firefox could just use the Microsoft H.264 decoder. It's free and licensed for all 7 and Vista users. There is no actual _technical_ reason why they can't support it on those platforms, but Mozilla obviously has other issues with it as well.

What would they use for the Mac and Linux based OSs?

Meph said,

What would they use for the Mac and Linux based OSs?
I'm pretty sure OS X includes an H.264 decoder too, so they're free to use that. Linux, well, who cares*.


(*I know who cares, that's why I said they have other issues with it.)

Meph said,

What would they use for the Mac and Linux based OSs?

OS X has included an H.264 decoder since 2005. (Quicktime 7)

Meph said,

What would they use for the Mac and Linux based OSs?

They're already working on gstreamer support for linux and OSX also has a H.264 decoder.

hdood said,
Even if it's not an ideal solution, Firefox could just use the Microsoft H.264 decoder. It's free and licensed for all 7 and Vista users. There is no actual _technical_ reason why they can't support it on those platforms, but Mozilla obviously has other issues with it as well.

What would not be ideal with this solution? What's the point in having 2 H.264 codecs on your machine?

MFH said,

What would not be ideal with this solution? What's the point in having 2 H.264 codecs on your machine?

More than that, the MS codec is really very good. It often works when others, even those you pay for, freeze or have other playback problems.

MFH said,
What would not be ideal with this solution? What's the point in having 2 H.264 codecs on your machine?
It's not ideal because they want the web to be free and accessible to as many as possible, on any platform. H.264 is essentially just available on the top two. It's not that they want two decoders, it's that they want a format that anyone can use without having to worry about patents.

hdood said,
It's not ideal because they want the web to be free and accessible to as many as possible, on any platform. H.264 is essentially just available on the top two. It's not that they want two decoders, it's that they want a format that anyone can use without having to worry about patents.

My job isn't ideal either. I want a paycheck without having to worry about actually doing any work. Welcome to a little thing we call reality.