The Week Ahead with WebRTC

by Dave Michels

The great codec debate for WebRTC may finally come to a close this week. There’s lots of ways to look at the issue – open vs. closed, defacto vs. disruptive, solution vs. problem, and so on. Since my post on Cisco’s open H.264 contribution, two key thoughts have pushed me back toward favoring VP8.

Tsahi Levent-Levi wrote that this isn’t just about H.264 and VP8, but H.265 and VP9 as well. He pointed out that if H.264 becomes the standard, it effectively guarantees H.265 as its successor. This diminishes Cullen Jennings’ point about H.264 patents expiring. The question was from an analyst on a conference call asking how long Cisco would bear the costs of distributing H.264, and Cullen broadly mentioned that H.264 is old, and its patent protections will eventually expire. That’s true, but with H.265 we are back to where we started.

The big disadvantage of H.264 is its licensing obligations which complicate matters and stifle innovation. Cisco’s offer to freely distribute H.264 on its dime is an attempt to nullify that disadvantage. A better solution, as Lawrence Byrd commented on my post, is for MPEG LA “to get with the times and make this 10-year old codec Royalty Free.” Cisco’s open/free effort exploits a loophole in the licensing terms which caps the fees it must pay. Cisco’s actions, and the reaction to it, clearly confirms the strong desire for an open source codec. Since MPEG LA has no intention of creating that, let’s not pretend otherwise.

When I have questions about codecs and IETF standards, I turn to Erik Lagerway (@ELagerway). We discuss the WebRTC video codec issue (H.264 and VP8) as well as ORTC.

Check out the discussion here: