Mozilla Ready to Capitulate in HMTL5 Video War, Firefox May Start to Support H.264

Google has abandoned the fight, leaving Mozilla to bear the grunt

By on March 14th, 2012 17:01 GMT

A long time ago (a couple of years ago) the HTML5 video wars, with the patent-encumbered H.264 pitted against the open and Google-backed WebM, were grabbing everyone's attention. Sides were chosen, battles were waged. Things quieted down after an while and it seems, unlikely or not, that the Mozilla-Google group has lost or if it hasn't lost yet, it's close to admitting defeat.

In fact, the problem, from Mozilla's point of view, was that there was no Mozilla-Google group to speak of. Google promised something, but hasn't delivered. It has converted much of its YouTube library to WebM, but it hasn't dropped support for H.264 from Chrome.

So now Mozilla has come to the unfortunate realization that it is fighting an already lost war and that it's only hurting its users by continuing to not support H.264 and other proprietary codecs.

Andreas Gal, Director of Research at Mozilla, opened a discussion proposing a patch that will enable Firefox, on mobile devices aka Android and Boot 2 Gecko, to use existing hardware decoders for HTML5 video.

Currently, Firefox only supports WebM and Theora for HTML5, but most of the videos online are encoded in H.264. The reason why most Firefox users are able to play most videos online is because they use the Flash fallback option, that web developers (almost) always include.

"I want to land bug 714408 on mozilla-central as soon as I get review for it. It adds hardware-accelerated audio/video decoding support to Gecko using system decoders already present on the system," Andreas Gal wrote.

While the post and the title of the thread don't look like anything major, it is in fact a discussion on whether Mozilla should give up and start supporting H.264 video. The consensus, while not universal, is that users are hurting and that WebM is not going to win.

It's a heated discussion with everyone from Asa Dotzler, to Christopher Blizzard, to Brendan Eich pitching in, and, while there is no clear conclusion yet, it seems that Mozilla is about to go ahead and figure out a solution to support H.264 video along with MP3 and ACC for audio.

One idea, the one proposed in the first place, is just to use whatever codecs are found on the device. This works for mobile devices, but leaves Windows XP users and some Linux users out in the cold, unless they manually install H.264 codecs.

Another rather more controversial solution would be to simply license H.264, which would cost a significant amount but nothing Mozilla can't handle, and then build support for it into the browser ensuring that all users can benefit.

But this leaves the question of distributing the source code for others to use, others who won't have a H.264 license as well as the problem of figuring out how many actual users Firefox has, not a simple task, in order to determine how much it has to pay.

There may still be some surprising developments, but the general view at Mozilla is that WebM lost and that Google abandoned the fight leaving Mozilla to bear the grunt. 

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