Fedora and openSUSE have taken a step backward in usability, disabling GPU-accelerated decoding for H.264, H.265, and VC1 codecs.
Video codecs often rely on the GPU for encoding and decoding, as it is faster and less resource-intensive than relying on the CPU. After Red Hat’s lawyers raised concerns about the drivers, and associated patents, for the Mesa VA-API, specific to AMD GPUs. In response, Red Hat opted to drop support for the video acceleration feature, impacting H.264, H.265, and VC1 codecs, some of the most common video codecs.
In short order, openSUSE followed suit, announcing VA-API would be disabled in that distro moving forward.
Both distributions seemed to indicate they would disable the driver not only for upcoming builds but also retroactively for any build that had the feature enabled.
Fortunately, Red Hat developers are already hard at work bundling Mesa libraries supporting VA-API for the RPM Fusion repository. Since Red Hat has a strict FOSS-only policy about what it bundles with its distribution, RPM Fusion is a community repo that contains many of the non-FOSS software, codecs, and drivers that are not shipped with Fedora.
On the openSUSE side of things, nothing has been officially stated regarding a solution, although one is sure to be forthcoming.
In both cases, the distros shipped VA-API support by mistake, without realizing the legal implications.
To be clear, computers running Fedora and openSUSE will still be able to view videos encoded with H.264/H.265/VC1. However, the videos will be decoded by the CPU, which could lead to lower battery life on laptops. Desktop users will, obviously, not be impacted nearly as much.
In the meantime, Ubuntu appears to be immune to the issue since it is based in the UK, with no offices in the US, unlike Red Hat, which is a US company. While SUSE is based in Germany, it still has offices in the US, making it subject to US patent law.