Royalty-free H.264 may clear way for HTML5 standard


All that background brings us back to Thursday's announcement by MPEG LA that it will never charge any royalties for Internet video encoded using the H.264 standard, when the video is free to consumers. That December 31, 2015 expiration date for royalty-free use of H.264 is now history, and anyone can decode Internet video encoded in the format freely, in perpetuity.

There's plenty of reason to rejoice at that, not least because oodles of HTML5 Web video is already using H.264. YouTube uses it in its HTML5 player, and any YouTube video you watch on your iPad or iPhone is encoded in the format. The same is true of Vimeo's HTML5 player, and CNN's, and ESPN's, and Major League Baseball's, and so on. And, of course, if Thursday's announcement means that the Web will soon get even more H.264 HTML5 video, that's more video you can consume with your iPhone and iPad, or other Flash-free mobile devices (which, at present, is many of them).

One hopes that with MPEG LA's announcement, Mozilla and Opera will now feel comfortable supporting the H.264 codec, and HTML5 Web video can standardize on the format. That would mean that it would become easier and cheaper for publishers to create cross-platform, cross-browser HTML5 video; further reduce the Web's reliance on proprietary Flash video; and make Flash-free mobile and desktop video-watching easier for browser makers, publishers, and consumers alike. Of course, folks like Ian Hickson would probably suggest that you never make assumptions about how browser makers will act.

But should Mozilla and Opera offer H.264 decoding in future versions of their browsers, the Web will finally have a universally-accepted, royalty-free, high-quality video codec for use everywhere.

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