Adaptive streaming will let you access apps, HD video and your whole OS from the cloud

Mozilla has teamed up with Hollywood rendering company OTOY to create a new codec to stream video and apps from the cloud directly to the browser. The JavaScript library ORBX can render apps, gaming platforms or an entire operating system in any HTML5-capable browser, including Chrome, (s goog) Safari (s aapl) or Firefox, even on a mobile device. The announcement is another attempt at destabilizing the hegemony of the H.264 video-compression standard, famously advanced by Apple over Flash and present in all iOS devices, after the promotion of WebM by Matroska and Google.

The impacts of the purely JavaScript-based system are multiple: for end users, the ability to run native PC apps on any device with an internet connection and to purchase and protect content without digital-rights management (DRM); for content creators, cheaper, faster rendering and the ability to distribute anywhere viewers can type in a URL; and for open web or cloud-computing advocates, a push away from proprietary or legacy plug-ins and an embrace of HTML5. With the presence of William Morris Endeavor CEO Ari Emanuel at the launch on Friday, the creators of the ORBX.js technology were also seeking to emphasize its piracy-fighting powers for the movie and TV industries: with video streams or apps watermarked in the cloud, DRM in the browser becomes unnecessary.

OTOY and Mozilla came together recently with the realization of a shared goal: trying to turn the web into the platform for all apps. Mozilla’s effort to implement H.264 in Firefox inspired OTOY to rewrite their own codec to run in JavaScript, said OTOY founder and CEO Jules Urbach at the launch event in San Francisco on Friday, and the partnership has now culminated in an optimized rendering experience that is approaching native app speeds in Firefox. Among the capabilities demonstrated at the launch were a virtualized Windows desktop running in Safari, lag-free gaming in a browser and streaming that can be adaptively encoded based on a user’s bandwidth.

“Web is the medium,” said Autodesk CTO Jeff Kowalski, who was very upbeat about the possibilities of the new tech for increasing work collaboration and creativity, and reducing delays through real-time rendering. Besides investing in OTOY, Autodesk’s interest is in providing 3D apps to their customers using cloud resources. The implications for agility — both for individuals and for enterprises — are freeing: a low-power home device can drive the centralized, high-power cloud machine, eliminating the need for a high-end workstation or provisioning of hardware assets to employees or contractors. Kowalski’s suggestion, in fact, was that such a move will allows users to downgrade their hardware, because it no longer has to match the needs of the software.

So what is needed for ORBX.js to work? Any HTML5 browser (Chrome, Safari, Firefox, IE10 or Opera) will do, but it needs to have WebGL technology to take advantage of the codec’s full decoding speed. Mozilla CTO Brendan Eich predicted that Apple will eventually come around to more fully accept WebGL. When asked if Apple, Google, or big streaming providers can do anything to stop the use of ORBX, Urbach said nothing short of getting rid of the browser would stop the tech from being used.

The central issues with streaming all of your computing are bandwidth and money. Video seemed to stream well on an iPhone over 4G, and with the adaptive streaming and superior compression of ORBX, Urbach projects a 25 percent bandwidth savings for, say, Netflix streaming. For that to happen, Netflix, Amazon and other providers have to adopt ORBX, something that the Mozilla-OTOY partnership is actively working on. They are hoping that their solution will be the one to put the format wars to rest, and allow consumers to collect the highest-definition content possible in a way that is format-agnostic. With respect to pricing, a ballpark figure suggested at the launch was $300 per year for OTOY’s cloud-rendering engine to take over one person’s computing needs. Pricing is still up in the air, but Urbach expects an AMI to launch later this year with the second generation of ORBX that will also include HDR encoding capabilities.

The videos below show streaming video and gaming through a browser using ORBX (via Mozilla).