Mozilla to support H.264 on mobile

Mozilla CTO, Brendan Eich announced today on his personal blog that Mozilla has taken the hard decision to support the H.264 video format on mobile editions of Firefox.

The reasons are pretty clear: Mozilla and Opera seem to be fighting this battle alone (EDIT: sort of, Brendan clarifies that Opera already supports H.264 on mobile), and the result is a less than optimal experience for mobile users: WebM or Theora are more power consuming since they don’t have widespread hardware acceleration support. Support that would come if more major players (browser makers and content providers) would come aboard.

Google announced a year ago that it would drop H.264 support from Android and Chrome in favor of WebM, the open format it bought and released a year earlier. But it hasn’t happened, while YouTube, the main web video property keeps HTML5 video as a hardly discoverable feature and covers just about a third of all videos, out of 100% as announced by Google years ago.

Considering Google’s heated competition with Apple in the mobile arena, it is very unlikely that Google will ever honor this commitment as this would give Apple a clear advantage on video experience.

So work is in progress to add hardware-accelerated decoding for HTML5 audio and video elements. Support will initially come to Boot2Gecko, Mozillas’s web OS project, and Android will follow a few weeks later.

There is no clear definition on what will happen on the desktop front though. While Windows 7 and Mac OS X come with proper decoders, it’s a different story on Linux and Windows XP, where while there is plenty of options for handling H.264 video, it is not reliable from a web developer point of view, so Mozilla could choose to ship an H.264 decoder as well.

In a separate post, Mitchell Baker, Mozilla Foundation chairwoman, said “We’ve declined to adopt a technology that improves user experience in the hopes this will bring greater user sovereignty.  Not many would try this strategy, but we did.” And adds, “Our first approach at bringing open codecs to the Web has ended up at an impasse on mobile, but we’re not done yet.  We shouldn’t beat ourselves up for somehow failing to live up to Mozilla’s values.  We’ll find a way around this impasse. “

3 thoughts on “Mozilla to support H.264 on mobile”

  1. Hi, a couple of corrections:

    1. Opera desktop matches Firefox so far in supporting only unencumbered formats from HTML5 video, but Opera’s mobile browser uses OS H.264 decoders. Same market reality we face.

    2. Google did not announce that it would drop H.264 support on Android. You won’t find “Android” in the text of the Jan. 11 and 14 2011 blog posts, only in comments from non-Googlers pointing to the mobile predicament.


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