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13 March 2012, 17:10

Mozilla looks at supporting H.264 video again

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Firefox against H.264 Mozilla developers may be about to give up their position of only supporting the freely available WebM codec in Firefox. Bug 714408, "Hardware-accelerated audio/video decoding in Gecko", in the Mozilla bug tracker sets out a plan to allow Firefox and the "Gonk" implementation of Boot2Gecko; this would call out to hardware or other existing decoders on a system to allow it to decode audio and video. This change would, for example, allow Firefox on Vista and Windows 7 systems to play H.264 video using the operating system's built-in codecs; Windows XP users would still be unable to do so because their operating system lacks a built-in H.264 decoder.

Andreas Gal, Mozilla's Director of Research, pushed for getting the 714408 bug "landed" in the main trunk of Mozilla as soon as possible, as his Boot2Gecko team wanted to make use of the system codecs and hardware support on mobile phones: "There is really no justification to stop our users from using system decoders already on the device, so we will not filter any formats".

Mozilla's Firefox had followed Google's lead when it released the WebM/VP8 codec, deciding to only support the WebM codec in Firefox's HTML5 <video> tag. Mozilla's developers decided to hard-wire the WebM codec into the browser and not call upon the underlying operating system's media decoding capabilities. Google's Chrome included an H.264 codec and a WebM decoder was added alongside it, although it was promised that this would be removed in the future. "Google pledged many things they didn't follow through with and our users and our project are paying the price", said Andreas Gal adding, "H.264 wont go away. Holding out just a little longer buys us exactly nothing".

Others have pointed out that not as many sites as needed have switched to WebM and that Firefox's ability to display web video often relies upon Adobe's proprietary Flash player often using its own built-in H.264 codecs. The discussion is currently ongoing on the thread and within the Mozilla community. A number of contributors are concerned that Mozilla will move away from its position of having no non-royalty-free codecs in Firefox, though given the support for the move from a number of leading Mozilla employees, it seems likely that the change will be made.


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