I missed this back when it happened, but I noticed it earlier this week when doing some testing. H.264 video has finally come to Firefox. GigaOm reported on this back in October. It looks like the Mozilla Foundation finally bit the bullet, with some considerable prompting from Cisco. Without getting too much into the nuts and bolts of it, H.264 is a codec, a way of encoding video. When the HTML5 specs were standardized, no decision was made as to what codec was going to be used for the <video> tag. So suddenly, what was supposed to end the need for plugins (not more Flash video!) launched a new format war. Was your video going to be in Ogg Theora? H.264? WebM? What browsers would support which format? Google really wanted WebM to take off and at one point said they’d even stop supporting other formats in their Chrome browser, but eventually backed away from that threat. Meantime, Apple supported H.264 in Safari (including on iOS devices) and Microsoft also supported H.264 in Internet Explorer. With Google grudgingly supporting H.264 in Chrome, that only left Mozilla’s Firefox browser as the outlier among the top browsers. Mozilla had a good reason to not support H.264, as a number of the technologies it uses are licensed from MPEG LA. It wasn’t an open format, something the Mozilla Foundation has advocated for since the very start. while Ogg Theora was an open format. But who supports Ogg? This meant that if you wanted a video playback system that played video in HTML5 instead of Flash, you needed to encode your videos in multiple formats; exactly what we’d been trying to avoid.
With this change, all the major browsers now support H.264 as the codec for HTML5 video playback. For us, that means that we can move ahead with a fully HTML5 player in our next generation MediaSpace deployment, and every browser will play your video back without the need for the Flash plugin. But don’t worry, because we’ll be using a “HTML5-first” system, which means that if you’re using an older browser that doesn’t yet support HTML5 video – or does support HTML5, but not H.264 – it will fallback to Flash. The benefit is a much lighter load on your computer for playback and a much speedier load time for your video. Look for the new HTML5 player in MediaSpace this Spring.