The HTML5 video war was fought and won a long time ago. Proprietary codecs, namely H.264, won, while open alternatives lost. Mozilla was one of the last holdouts, but even it admitted defeat. But there's another war on the horizon and it's closer than ever, the war for the WebRTC video codec.
WebRTC is a new technology designed to power audio and video communications on the web. Already, even if the technology is not ready, people are pushing it beyond its design specifications and using WebRTC for all sorts of interesting things, including a peer-to-peer web proxy built by Google.
But WebRTC is not yet a standard and there's one last big thing the parties involved need to agree on, namely the video codec that WebRTC will use. At the moment, the contenders are the proprietary but increasingly free H.264 and the open source VP8, released by Google.
Until a couple of days ago, VP8 had a fair chance of becoming the default codec in the WebRTC standard. But now things are looking the other way around.
Cisco announced that it would be releasing the source code for its implementation of the H.264 codec under an open license. What's more, it will also be making available binary blobs of the codec, for almost any platform imaginable, for free.
Mozilla is already behind the initiative. In fact, it played a big role in engineering it. Other big players already supported H.264 as the default choice for WebRTC or at least as an alternative.
Google is looking increasingly cornered, which is ironic especially since it created WebRTC in the first place. The Internet Engineering Task Force is meeting next week to discuss precisely the issue of codecs for WebRTC, so Cisco's announcement was not coincidental.
For its part, Mozilla plans to support both VP8 and H.264 for HTML5 <video> and WebRTC. It likely plans to do this regardless of what the IETF decides. Google already supports both H.264 and VP8 for the HTML5 video element. Most other players do the same. But the search giant continues to push for exclusively supporting VP8 in the WebRTC standard.