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Mozilla debates supporting H.264 video playback

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The HTML5 video element promised to be a game-changer for Internet media publishing. It provided a vendor-neutral standards-based mechanism for conveying video content on the Web without the need for proprietary plugins while offering a path for tighter integration of video content on the Web and broader platform support than has historically been available through plugins.

But the HTML5 video element has yet to live up to its full potential, because a dispute over video encoding has prevented the standard from being implemented consistently across all Web browsers. Mozilla, which has long resisted adoption of H.264 on ideological grounds, is now preparing to support it on mobile devices where the codec is supplied by the platform or implemented in hardware.

The popular H.264 format is widely viewed as the best technical choice for encoding Internet video, but its underlying compression technologies are covered by a wide range of patents. This has raised the question of whether its appropriate for a standards-based Web technology to rely on a patent-encumbered video format that requires publishers and software implementors to pay licensing fees.

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