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Firefox, Openh264, Gecko Media Plugins, and current state of development

Cisco announced back in October 2013 that it would release an open source H.264 codec in the near future that would be made available to open source projects so that these projects could integrate the codec into their applications without having to worry about licensing fees or integrating proprietary code.

Github was selected to host the OpenH264 repository and progress has been made ever since the announcement was made.

Mozilla too has been at work adding support for OpenH264 to Firefox. The organizations main goal is to use the codec for WebRTC even though it can also be useful for other encoding activities such as those on video hosting websites like YouTube.

A recent change marks the beginning of the integration of OpenH264 in the Firefox browser. Firefox Nightly, currently on version 33, will list the codec now under plugins if a switch is flipped in the browser's configuration.

How to enable it

open h264 codec firefox

  1. Type about:config into the browser's address bar and hit enter.
  2. Confirm you will be careful if you receive a warning.
  3. Filter for and double-click the entry to set it to true.

When you open about:addons afterwards and switch to plugins there in the sidebar, you will notice the new "OpenH264 Video Codec provided by Cisco Systems, Inc" listed on that page.

The codec is disabled by default and cannot be enabled at this point in time. A message reads "will be installed shortly" suggesting that it will be downloaded and installed in the next time.

openh264 video codec

The integration is interesting for a number of reasons. First, even though OpenH264 is listed under plugins, it is not a standard plugin, Mozilla files it under Gecko Media Plugins

GMP is a special purpose extension point for authorised 3rd party codecs and EME (Encrypted Media Extensions) CDMs (Content Decryption Modules).

Besides that, it is a component that gets downloaded and installed directly by the browser even though it is not maintained by Mozilla but downloaded from Cisco instead.

Mozilla had quite the discussion about how to handle this delicate matter. For now, it seems to favor the following decisions:

  • The video codec is listed under Plugins in the Add-ons Manager.
  • Users will have options to activate or deactivate it there.
  • Click to play support wont be implemented.
  • Automatic updates will be supported.
  • Target are all supported desktop platforms.

Mozilla is making good progress on the implementation and while it is only for WebRTC at the moment, it is possible that the organization will implement it for other purposes as well.

This article was first seen on ComTek's "TekBits" Technology News


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