Good News for HTML5: H.264 Streaming Will Remain Free

Good news for HTML5 proponents: MPEG LA has announced that it will extend its royalty-free license of the H.264 video streaming format for an additional five years. In doing so, the license holder has agreed not to charge for use of the near-ubiquitous H.264 encoding format through 2016.

The move comes after YouTube (s GOOG) and Vimeo (s IACI) rolled out implementations of HTML5 video last month, both of which took advantage of H.264.

Using HTML5, those companies can serve video directly into certain modern browsers without an external plugin like Adobe (s ADBE) Flash or Microsoft (s MSFT) Silverlight. The only problem is that many of the newest browsers don’t support H.264. Users can access HTML5 video encoded in H.264 with Chrome, Safari or Internet Explorer with Google’s ChromeFrame installed, but the format isn’t yet supported by Firefox and Opera. That means that only about 25 percent of users can actually watch HTML5 video encoded in H.264, according to Vimeo.

Mozilla, which makes the Firefox web browser, had shied away from supporting H.264 for fear that MPEG LA might begin charging for streaming once the current license expires at the end of this year. Mozilla chose instead to support video through the Ogg Vorbis encoding format, which isn’t encumbered by licenses. Opera also supports Ogg, while Microsoft’s Internet Explorer has yet to throw its weight behind either format.

Despite the continuation of MPEG LA’s royalty-free licensing plan, don’t expect Firefox to get behind H.264 anytime soon. In response to the news, Mozilla CEO John Lilly tweeted yesterday, “…Regarding that MPEG-LA announce: it’s good they did it, but they sort of had to. But it’s like 5 more years of free to lock you in 4ever.”