With its Thor project, Cisco is trying to provide the tech industry with a royalty-free video codec for use in Web browsers and online video, an issue that has stymied the industry for years.
Video codecs provide compression algorithms to reduce video size so that they can be more easily transferred via the Internet, with minimal loss in image quality. But these codecs, such as the widely used H.264 and its successor H.265 (known as HEVC), are covered by patents, so browser makers and other tech vendors need a license that may include royalty payments and/or restrictions on the codec’s use or distribution.
When the HTML5 specification was up for standards approval, the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) sought out a video codec but ended up not placing one in the specification because of license issues. Google tried to provide an alternative to the patented video codecs with its VP8 codec and, later, the VP9 version. However, neither were adopted due to other browser makers’ resistance to supporting a competitor’s technology or concerns over licensing terms.