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WebRTC MTI Video Codec: VP8 Patent Holders & License Terms Defined

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The plot thickens…

VP8 Patent Cross-license Agreement

Google is in the process of preparing an agreement that will assist companies and developers with the adoption of VP8 technology by making available a royalty-free license to certain patents that are necessary for the implementation of VP8 and which are owned by Google and a number of other major technology companies.

Google is considering licensing these patents pursuant to the terms of the attached draft patent license agreement. This draft is under review by Google and is therefore currently non-binding and does not constitute an offer to license any patents. A formal, binding agreement will be posted to this site in the coming weeks. Thus, the below draft is for informational purposes only.

 

The Primary Licensors are each of the following entities and, subject to any noted exclusions, all of their respective Affiliates (as defined in the VP8 Patent Cross-License Agreement).

CIF Licensing LLC

France Telecom

Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft zur Foerderung der angewandten Forschung e.V.

Fujitsu Limited

Koninklijke Philips Electronics N.V.

LG Electronics Inc.

Mitsubishi Electric Corporation

MPEG LA, LLC

NTT DOCOMO, INC.

Panasonic Corporation

Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd.

Siemens Corporation

H.264 for WebRTC MTI Codec

H.264 AVC for WebRTC

I have been supporting VP8 as the MTI codec in the WebRTC / RTCWEB WG, for various reasons including…

  • Royalty Free (drives innovation)
  • Open Source (Source code is optimized for RTC and readily available)
  • Supported by a rather large company (Google)

It seems some of us may be changing our minds (myself included), for various reasons, eg…

  • H.264 is prolific in RTC today. If we are to have interoperability with other endpoints out there we need 264.
  • Open Source. H.264 optimized source for ARM and X86 its coming, Cullen said so 🙂
  • Supported by many rather large companies (MPEG-LA for starters)
  • VP8 IPR is coming under heavy fire. Nokia being one firm that has boldly stated that they hold patents on VP8 and will enforce them, and apparently there is at least one more VP8 patent holder out there that is keeping rather quiet, which is rather disconcerting.
  • Since H.264 utilizes hardware acceleration, battery consumption on mobile devices should be lower as well.
  • Quality is arguably better in some cases, this can be somewhat subjective.

So where does this leave the innovators that need free software to create free software? Great question, and here are some potential answers…

  • If there is Open Source H.264 software out there that has been optimized for Real-time Communication (encoding and decoding in real-time) there are no “software” fees (excluding MPEG-LA), that is one less, rather large, obstacle.
  • MPEG-LA (last I looked) has stated that there are no patent fees associated with deployments under 100k endpoints. This is great for smaller deployments but larger deployments could still have a problem here?

Some are saying that the bulk of all mobile devices that could support video have a t least one license for H.264 already, so why then would there be another royalty for H.264 on that very same device? This is an interesting argument and one that may in fact provide the innovative developers with a leg up when it comes time to debate the issue with the MPEG-LA. That being said, most innovative developers I know want nothing to do with legal debates.

There is also another factor to consider, many of the MPEG-LA patent holders are behind WebRTC, so why then would they shoot themselves in the foot and hamper adoption of WebRTC by litigating those who adopt it? There has also been talk of creating a new H.264 license in the MPEG-LA related directly to WebRTC / RTCWEB, which would be free of royalties. Talk is cheap.

Those vendors who only run one codec today will have likely already chosen H.264 for their existing deployments and will likely vote 264 as the MTI codec. At the end of the day, the prudent vendors looking for the most coverage in WebRTC interoperability will support both H.264 and VP8, regardless of which codec is selected as MTI.

After weighing all the options it seems (to me at least) that H.264 is the better choice today, now we just need an open source (with a BSD or MTI license or the like) H.264 implementation that has been optimized for WebRTC.

I am interested in hearing what the developers out there think about this. What do you think? Should H.264 be the MTI (Mandatory to Implement) video codec for WebRTC?

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