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Look ma, no plugins! Streaming web video with just JavaScript

Mozilla, Otoy debut high-speed codec for any browser

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Mozilla and Los Angeles, California–based graphics software company Otoy have jointly announced ORBX.js, a new JavaScript library which the companies say can deliver full 1080p, 60fps digital video in a browser window using only web standards–based technologies.

"It is a remarkable achievement to see a high performance video codec rivaling H.264 that runs entirely in the browser," Mozilla director of engineering Vlad Vukicevic said in a canned statement.

The library is said to work on any modern browser, including those running on mobile devices – provided, that is, they offer "fast JavaScript" and support WebGL. Those criteria are likely to exclude many built-in smartphone browsers, but recent builds of such downloadable mobile browsers as Google Chrome, Firefox, and Opera should fill the bill.

In addition to streaming video, Otoy says its codec can facilitate application virtualization, allowing Windows, Linux, or OS X applications to be virtualized in the cloud and have their UIs streamed to any HTML5-compatible browser, where they are decoded by the ORBX.js library.

As a result, users could potentially access such complex desktop applications as Adobe Photoshop or 3D games using a device as low-powered as a Chromebook or a Windows RT tablet. No additional client software is needed.

"We've found a way to provide a full native PC experience entirely through HTML5 and JavaScript, without having to touch H.264, Flash, Java, or Google Native Client," said Otoy founder and CEO Jules Urbach. "It's a huge win for the open Web and we expect HTML5 to replace legacy operating systems on desktops, TVs, consoles and mobile devices."

To some extent, the work Otoy has done builds on earlier work by Mozilla, which helped develop the ORBX.js library.

"We experimented with H.264 decoding in JavaScript with broadway.js previously and came to the conclusion that it was challenging to implement efficiently," Vukicevic explained.

By comparison, the new library is based on Otoy's proprietary ORBX codec, which was built from scratch to be easier to implement in a browser environment.

In addition to performance, one other feature Otoy's tech offers is a possible solution to the thorny problem of how to deliver protected multimedia content on the web without resorting to add-on DRM schemes, which fragment the market by not being compatible with every device.

Streaming media companies such as Netflix have expressed interest in moving away from plugin-based technologies such as Flash, Java, and Silverlight, but their business models rely on being able to prevent piracy. To that end, they have been pushing to get DRM-friendly extensions to the HTML5 specs ratified by the Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C).

Otoy's codec offers a different approach. Instead of DRM, the ORBX codec embeds a unique watermark in each video stream that's keyed to the individual viewer. In this way, users get maximum freedom to use the content how they see fit – they can store it, make backups, and use it on multiple devices. But if a copy of their specific encode ever shows up on a BitTorrent server, the feds will know exactly where to come knocking.

Mozilla and Otoy plan to demo the technology at a press roundtable in San Francisco at 10:30am Pacific time on Friday, along with Autodesk, which helped fund development of ORBX. ®

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