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July 24, 2012

Firefox Beta 15 supports new Opus audio format

Opus codec

Mozilla has announced that the new Firefox Beta 15 includes support for the upcoming Opus audio format.  The features cited as benefits for Opus include improved compression over existing formats, good for both speech and music, dynamically adjustable bitrate, audio bandwidth, and coding delay, and support for realtime and pre-recorded audio.

The page announcing codec support includes a "Why Should I Care?" section, addressing the likelihood that most people will yawn upon hearing the news that rather than getting off their free software high horse (read "principles") and supporting MP3 or AAC, Mozilla is adding yet another codec to the mix.  Apparently, the codec is intended for use in WebRTC.  Wikipedia lists four other audio codecs as being intended for WebRTC, none of which are Opus, so it's unclear if Opus is simply Mozilla's push for an official WebRTC codec or if the codec will be the official choice at some later point.  Either way, time will tell if other browser makers (Apple, Google, Microsoft, Opera, etc) will include support.

Personally, I tend to agree with Gruber's analysis on free software codecs.  They aren't necessarily safer than patent-encumbered codecs; they just haven't yet been proven to infringe on the multitude of software patents in the wild.  The lack of universal support of a single codec has made the HTML5 <audio> tag virtually unusable today. I'm not sure that adding another codec will solve the problem.