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Mozilla Debates Supporting H.264 In Firefox Via System Codecs 320

Posted by Soulskill
from the necessary-evils dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Adoption of the HTML5 video element has been hampered by the lack of a universal video format that is supported in all browsers. Mozilla previously rejected the popular H.264 video codec because it is patent-encumbered and would require implementors to pay royalty fees. The organization is now rethinking its position and is preparing to add support for H.264 video decoding in mobile Firefox via codecs that are provided by the underlying operating system or hardware. The controversial proposal has attracted a lot of criticism from Firefox contributors, including some employed by Mozilla."
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Mozilla Debates Supporting H.264 In Firefox Via System Codecs

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  • What??? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by lennier1 (264730)

    A last remnant of sanity over at Mozilla? Guess there's something to those Armageddon rumors after all.

  • by Tumbleweed (3706) * on Tuesday March 13, 2012 @04:15PM (#39344223)

    If the purpose of Mozilla is to provide high-quality, standards-compliant products, then this is the smart move. If the purpose is to advocate for all things open source, then this is a bad move. The project is made up of people from both those camps, so there is going to be much gnashing of teeth over this, and the mandate from on high without discussing it isn't going to make it any more pleasant.

    Nevertheless, Google's lack of commitment to removing h.264 from Chrome doesn't help. Maybe Google could buy MPEG-LA and end this nonsense once and for all?

    • by rjstanford (69735) on Tuesday March 13, 2012 @05:16PM (#39345041) Homepage Journal

      If the purpose is to advocate for all things open source, then this is a bad move.

      This is almost as silly as saying that, to advocate for open source, Linux kernels should refuse to run closed-source software.

      More reasonably, consider that all modern operating systems provide a codec library. Firefox is one of the very few products that provides its own, out-of-sync one. Its a throwback to the times when every program used to include its own graphics, sound, and printer drivers. We moved away from those times for a very good reason.

      If the Mozilla Foundation wants to make sure that all Firefox users can view at least the same subset of videos, they could always include and install a variety of freely licensed video codecs into the O/S store, and have that as a default part of the Firefox installation scripts. Of course, then the users' experience might be better in non-Firefox products also...

      • by Zenin (266666) on Tuesday March 13, 2012 @07:38PM (#39346583) Homepage

        "Its a throwback to the times when every program used to include its own graphics, sound, and printer drivers. We moved away from those times for a very good reason."

        There's a reason why VLC [videolan.org] can play basically anything, on any system, far better and more reliably then anything else on the planet. And it sure as hell isn't because they're leveraging whatever maze of codec hell happens to be lying around a user's system.

        System codecs were a nice idea in theory that never delivered in practice. Too many bad codecs included with every random software application that all register themselves to try and be the first priority codec for every format for the entire system... Did I mention there's no sane way for users to adjust codec priority order? The best of tools are 3rd party and at best can be described as incredibly cryptic. And they each are trying to reinvent that wheel because the ones actually shipped with the base OS are themselves, bad.

        Mozilla using system codes would increase crash reports 100 fold overnight, as well as security breaches, 99.9% of which would have nothing to do with Mozilla but damned if the users know or care about the distinction, and there wouldn't be a damned thing Mozilla could do to fix it if they wanted to.

        • by shutdown -p now (807394) on Tuesday March 13, 2012 @08:04PM (#39346833) Journal

          Mozilla using system codes would increase crash reports 100 fold overnight

          It will if they use any random codec that is requested and happens to be installed. An alternative model is to do what IE9+ does with respect to WebM - it does not use third-party codecs in general, but Google's WebM implementation is specifically whitelisted and will be used if installed. Firefox can similarly whitelist Microsoft's H.264 implementation on Win7 and Apple's one on OS X (and whatever else is out there on mobile platforms).

        • by smash (1351)

          The reason VLC plays anything is due to the work that has gone into it, not specifically because it is a monolithic blob of software.

          If they wrote and released codecs as seperate DLLs/shared libraries, we'd still be able to play just as much content using said shared libraries.

          Or perhaps you'd rather we go back to the bad old days, when every game, etc had to have specific support for your video card and specific support for your sound card (and which broke in rather annoying ways if you had something

    • by westlake (615356) on Tuesday March 13, 2012 @05:33PM (#39345259)

      Maybe Google could buy MPEG-LA and end this nonsense once and for all?

      MPEG LA [mpegla.com] manages patent pools.

      The AVC/H.264 pool alone represents 29 licensors ---

      most of them global industrial giants with no compelling reason to dance to Google's tune.

      Here is a small sampling:

      Cisco
      Fujitsu
      HP
      Hitachi
      NTT
      Philips
      Mitsubishi
      Samsung
      Sony
      Ericsson
      Toshiba

    • by tlhIngan (30335)

      Maybe Google could buy MPEG-LA and end this nonsense once and for all?

      Well, you can't really buy MPEG-LA. They just offer a license of the patents in h.264 depending on use (consumer amateur use, professional use, etc).

      You are, however, free to NOT use MPEG-LA and implement your own h.264 stuff. You just go and license each patent individually from every company. Of course, the general time and cost of doing so is rather prohibitive since you're going to be dealing with dozens of companies and hundreds of p

  • Because they ran out of foot to shoot.
    Good grief, seems there can't be a single good article about Mozilla as of late.
  • I thought we were going in the other direction. You know the one were we don't have to pay a patent fee for online video.

    • by Billly Gates (198444) on Tuesday March 13, 2012 @04:21PM (#39344305) Journal

      Or pay $$$ for proprietary tools for developing websites.

      One of the reasons I hated flash was the web was no longer open. 10 years ago you could use Linux to develop web pages because it had cool xml, php, database and other tools. Then flash and Adobe came around and turned it into a win32 and to a much lesser extent mac platform.

      All the good candidates with the right skills had these $2,000 tools as HR check listed flash, flex, dreamweaver, illustrator, etc.

      I view h.264 as another tie in to expensive tools that force you to pirate and not update your own pc just be job competitive. That is against the spirit of the web. No free tool can exist because h.264 is licensed and proprietary.

      • You can still use WebM, but it will only be supported on some browsers. Like it is now. Also, not all countries recognize software patents, so h.264 is free to use in them.
        Also, the vast majority of hardware (camcorders, phones etc) supports h.264 but not WebM, so if you want to put a video that you recorded on your web site, you have to transcode it to WebM (and have a h.264 decioder).
        Even DVB-T in my country uses h.264.

        You want to break that compatibility (and make it impossible for me to watch online vid

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by TD-Linux (1295697)

        I view h.264 as another tie in to expensive tools that force you to pirate and not update your own pc just be job competitive. That is against the spirit of the web. No free tool can exist because h.264 is licensed and proprietary.

        The hell kind of reasoning is that? Have you ever actually tried creating a webpage? H.264 is not proprietary. The only thing that even touches H.264 is your video encoder. You probably already have one, and if not, there are plenty of good ones out there that you can use.

        What is H.264 forcing you to pirate, exactly? How is H.264 preventing you from updating your PC? Why can no free tools exist? Have you read the actual license on MPEG-LA's website?

      • by slew (2918)

        No free tool can exist because h.264 is licensed and proprietary.

        IANAL, but as far as I can tell, this statement is misleading.

        First of all, almost all codecs are proprietary and licensed (including WebM), so you really need to look at the terms of the license to compare them.

        Here's the WebM license.

        Google hereby grants to you a perpetual, worldwide, non-exclusive, no-charge, royalty-free, irrevocable (except as stated in this section) patent license to make, have made, use, offer to sell, sell, import, transfer, and otherwise run, modify and propagate the contents of this implementation of VP8, where such license applies only to those patent claims, both currently owned by Google and acquired in the future, licensable by Google that are necessarily infringed by this implementation of VP8. This grant does not include claims that would be infringed only as a consequence of further modification of this implementation. If you or your agent or exclusive licensee institute or order or agree to the institution of patent litigation against any entity (including a cross-claim or counterclaim in a lawsuit) alleging that this implementation of VP8 or any code incorporated within this implementation of VP8 constitutes direct or contributory patent infringement, or inducement of patent infringement, then any patent rights granted to you under this License for this implementation of VP8 shall terminate as of the date such litigation is filed.

        Basically, free unless you or anyone you know sue anyone. In which case you don't get a license (the time-bomb provision).
        The H.264 license is of course longer, but here is a brief summary of the relavent terms...

        For (a) (1) branded encoder and decoder products sold both to End Users and on an OEM basis for incorporation into personal computers but not part of a personal computer operating system (a decoder, encoder, or product consisting of one decoder and one encoder = “unit”), royalties (beginning January 1, 2005) per Legal Entity are 0 - 100,000 units per year = no royalty (this threshold is available to one Legal Entity in an affiliated group); US $0.20 per unit after first 100,000 units each year; above 5 million units per year, royalty = US $0.10 per unit. The maximum annual royalty (“cap”) for an Enterprise (commonly controlled Legal Entities) is $3.5 million per year 2005-2006, $4.25 million per year 2007-08, $5 million per year 2009-10, and $6.5 million per year in 2011-15....
        In the case of Internet Broadcast AVC Video (AVC Video that is delivered via the Worldwide Internet to an End User for which the End User does not pay remuneration for the right to receive or view, i.e., neither Title-by-Title nor Subscription), there will be no royalty for the life of the License.

        So although technical no free tool can exist (unless it was so

    • by TD-Linux (1295697)
      You don't. The vast majority of systems today already include a decoder, you don't need to include one in the web browser. This actually makes a lot of sense. What business does the web browser have decoding the video? If you offload it to the system, it'll often be done by dedicated hardware that's a lot faster and consumes a lot less power.
      • by beelsebob (529313)

        Better yet, it'll allow for faster evolution of what video formats are used online... When a new MPEG5 or WebM2 format becomes immensely popular amongst implementers, suddenly we'll all magically be able to use it on t'internet too.

    • by dreemernj (859414)
      I remember it being announced that Chrome was dropping support for H264. I only remember because a month later Microsoft released a plugin to add support back to Chrome on Windows and I thought that was hilarious. I don't recall if they ever actually dropped support though. I mainly use Opera, which has never had H264 natively anyway so I've mostly ignored the arguments.
    • by BZ (40346) on Tuesday March 13, 2012 @04:33PM (#39344487)

      Google promised they'd drop H.264 in Chrome... and then never did. Recent queries about the state of that promise are met with curious silence.

    • I have some bad news for you: if you own a smart phone you already have paid because it contains a H.264 hardware decoder that's licensed. Now what's wrong with Mozilla using that existing hardware to get some decent performance instead of using an outside codec that will lead to lousy performance and worse battery life on the meagre content that's available to it ?

  • by msobkow (48369) on Tuesday March 13, 2012 @04:21PM (#39344313) Homepage Journal

    It only stands to reason that if you're using standard system APIs to access codecs that have been purchased or installed by the user/owner, then ALL of those codecs should be usable, not just the free ones.

    What's the point of having a general purpose browser if you let it get polluted by political arguments about which codecs the USER installs? Using system codecs is not "polluting the code" -- it's letting the user decide.

    • Using system codecs is not "polluting the code" -- it's letting the user decide.

      It also creates problems for web developers, who are already burdened with supporting multiple incompatible browsers simultaneously.

      • Yes, they are so burdened right no too. Some users do not have Flash installed, some do not have Java Runtime, some do not have Silverlight. Some browsers may not even support Javascript. the developers have to take all this into account and provide functionality even if you don't have Flash, Java and Silverlight.

        Oh, wait, they just tell the user to go donwnload the required plugin.

      • by Rockoon (1252108)

        It also creates problems for web developers

        ..and being a network administrator would be easier if every box in the universe ran the same version of the same operating system with the same hardware.

        ..and being an automobile mechanic would be easier if every car used the exact same identical parts as all other cars.


        We should care that web developers have to do their job? They get compensated for doing their fucking job. They simply arent part of this equation. Of course web developers want an easier time of it. Duh. Next you'll tell us that the

    • by Fastolfe (1470)

      I think the point is that content publishers would like to see a small set of standard/mandatory codecs, so that they don't have to keep a library of many different versions of their content, or go through the CPU expense of transcoding everything on demand. Think of YouTube's storage costs, for instance.

    • by J0nne (924579) on Tuesday March 13, 2012 @04:59PM (#39344833)

      Because they tried this before, with the <object> tag, which could support any possible codec (quicktime, realvideo, wmv, ...). This ended up being such a huge mess that web developers decided to just go with flash instead, because for all its failings, at least it worked on most computers (and you didn't need to deal with the ugly default controls media players insisted on at the time).

      • Web developers decided to go with Flash instead of <object />? You do realise %lt;object /> is used to embed flash in to html pages? You could use >embed /< if you wanted to though, but thats not part of HTML4 so good luck with that.

        The two are only slightly related anyway, so comparing them is rather stupid. Its more relevant to compare video with img. When you embed an image in a page you have to take into account the users browser can understand the image format. Old versions of IE didn'

    • by watermark (913726)

      Some codecs (read H.264) are patent encumbered so require a royalty to be paid to use. Using any particular codec will encourage the proliferation of those formats on the web. H.264, unfortunately, has nearly become the standard due to it's wide use. This basically kills any dream of a free ($) operating system that could be made affordable to the poor, education, or developing nations.

      Windows alone cost $100, a Raspberry Pi costs $35.

  • This battle between open and proprietary standards hasn't resulted in people adopting open standards - it's just encouraged the continued use of Flash. Enough people use Firefox that its lack of h.264 support means sites stick with the lowest common denominator (BTW is Google actually going to ever follow through and remove h.264 support in Chrome?).

    On a side note - it's annoying that Firefox is only considering this for their mobile browser, which is not a particularly widely used product. They really shou

    • by _xeno_ (155264)

      This battle between open and proprietary standards hasn't resulted in people adopting open standards - it's just encouraged the continued use of Flash.

      I think that has more to do with <video> support sucking compared to Flash. Specifically, things like:

      1. The ability to fullscreen a video in a single step.
      2. The ability to skip ahead to a section of the video that hasn't downloaded yet.
      3. The ability to seamlessly switch between different bitrates depending on connection speed.
      4. The ability to seamlessly switch between different resolutions depending on connection speed.

      I think of that list, the only one that works fairly reliably across browsers i

      • 2. The ability to skip ahead to a section of the video that hasn't downloaded yet.

        Hmm... maybe this works better on Windows; but on the Mac Flash absolutely sucks at this, while h.264 is seamless at it (in Safari and Chrome.

        Seriously, if I try to scrub ahead in a long Flash video, the delay can be a minute before Flash will start playing from the new location.

  • either way (Score:2, Funny)

    by alienzed (732782)
    I'm sure it'll be implemented in Firefox 19, due to be released next week.
    • Pretty soon the naming convention will have a timestamp built in.

      The Firefox of right now:

      Firefox2012.03.13.16.07.53

      • by MrKevvy (85565)

        Pfft... .53 is so last-second. Why can't you splitters update to .54 like the rest of us?

  • and adobe flash is going to be supported only in google chrome, leaving firefox on linux out in the cold, - anyone else see a conspiracy theory brewing in that niche

    flash needs to be made obsolete!
  • Hypocrits! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by pesc (147035) on Tuesday March 13, 2012 @04:50PM (#39344713)

    Mozilla already plays H264 video embedded in flash contents through an external flash plugin. Today.

    So why would it be controversial to allow another plugin to do the same?

  • Find out who owns H264, and feed them to your pets.
  • by Sloppy (14984) on Tuesday March 13, 2012 @04:57PM (#39344811) Homepage Journal

    They shouldn't "support H.264" but rather, they should support any unknown (to the browser) codec by trying the OS.

    There are two different issues going on here, and the Mozilla team got one of them right and one of them wrong.

    1. The don't want to implement something that is illegal to implement (or even use!), e.g. patented codecs without permission. Mozilla made the right call on this, all along. Free Software can't implement H.264 without "going underground" (which is itself a loss of freedom, romantic though it be).
    2. They want all Mozilla users to have the same experience, so they define it as "intolerably bad" if one Mozilla user can play codec x and another Mozilla user can't. Mozilla got this wrong; it's not "intolerably bad" ; it's "regrettably bad." It's something to be angry about, but the decision is out of your hands. There isn't anything Mozilla can do that will cause it to be, that all users can play all codecs. That battle is over until we have patent reform (or until patents expire in a decade or two). Until then, a balkanized web is something we simply must live with. That's the political world you live in.

    Let VDPAU/VA-API/whatever deal with it. All of it, and Mozilla won't have to maintain Theora or WebM code, either. Then they can get back to hunting for memory leaks. ;-)

    how will Web developers know when they can and cannot count on system codecs?

    They won't, just like they don't know that now. Stuff will fail. And if when does, maybe the browser can tell the user to get off their ass and go vote for a change.

    • They shouldn't "support H.264" but rather, they should support any unknown (to the browser) codec by trying the OS.

      No, no, no. That will lead to the bad old days of having to install a different codec for each web site. Remember when we had Real, various MS codecs, Quicktime, and Flash, and various others I have forgotten all competing for memory? It sucked.

      In a perfect world the video tag would define a small list of codecs that are broadly supported by OSes and mobile devices. The list of codecs can be re

  • While I'm fine with coders having their own ethical convictions, (I have a few of my own), you should keep in mind that coders are not your audience. It's the people who use your product that you should be listening too.

    Say Firefox would introduce some kind of iTunes support, just some random crazy nonsense feature. As a coder I have moral objections against anything related to Apple, mainly due to their business practices. But I could see it being useful to a portion of the users of Firefox. The responsibl

  • by Snowlock45 (613911) on Tuesday March 13, 2012 @05:11PM (#39344971)
    In this case, I would be willing to be that the reason is that the pirate groups have now made x264 the defacto standard for standard definition TV. AVI is falling by the wayside, and therefore Mozilla is just keeping up with the tech savvy of the interwebs. http://torrentfreak.com/bittorrent-pirates-go-nuts-after-tv-release-groups-dump-xvid-120303/ [torrentfreak.com]
  • Why shouldn't Firefox support every codec supported by the system? It shouldn't be much code.

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