For years now the majority of online videos have used a single codec: H.264. Some platforms have used other codecs such as Google’s VP9 – but no other codec has come close to matching the popularity of H.264.
All that could be set to change now however as the Alliance for Open Media (AOMedia) has released their new AV1 codec and it is rapidly being adopted. Although it is still early days, it could very well be the next big thing for online video.
“What is AV1?”
As you may have gathered, AV1 is a next-generation video codec that has been developed by AOMedia. Its founding members included Amazon, Cisco, Google, Intel, Microsoft, Mozilla and Netflix who decided to solidify the separate Daala, Thor, and VP10 codecs that they were working on.
The goal of AV1 is to provide an open and royalty-free format that is optimized for the web and has the potential to scale based on modern demands. The fact that it is backed by AOMedia members make it a strong contender, seeing as they include some of the biggest names with a stake in online video.
How AV1 Compares to Other Formats
The main reason why AV1 could be the next big thing for online video is that it seems to stack up favorably against other formats – especially H.264 and its successor H.265 (HEVC).
Although still being tested, AV1 has been shown to be able to provide 30% greater compression than HEVC. That is significant, considering HEVC is able to provide up to 50% greater compression than H.264.
On top of that the royalty-free status of AV1 is driving a lot of its popularity. Both H.264 and HEVC require royalty fees that make using them a costly endeavor. That is especially true of HEVC, that has a complex licensing and royalty structure that can be frustrating to handle.
The higher compression of AV1 will enable significant savings, particularly by major video platforms such as YouTube and Netflix. On top of that the royalty-free status will save them millions of dollars as well compared to if they were to use HEVC.
Not All Smooth Sailing
As much as AV1 shows a lot of promise and seems set to fulfill its goal – it does have significant challenges that it will have to face.
One of the most notable challenges is the threat to its royalty-free status that may be posed by yet unknown patents. Although all the features in AV1 were double-checked independently to ensure they do not infringe on the patents of competing companies – there may be unforeseen patents that could affect them.
Aside from that there is the inevitable delay between the release of AV1 and the format being supported by hardware. Until it does have hardware support AV1 will have to rely on software encoders and decoders that are not able to provide the same performance levels.
Typically it takes 1 ½ to 2 years for hardware support to be available in consumer devices, which is in line with AOMedia’s expectation that it should arrive in early 2020.
“What Does it Mean for End Users?”
For end users the success of AV1 will provide higher quality videos at lesser bandwidth, which can have a big impact – especially when streaming high resolution content in 4K UHD.
It will also enable more effective real time applications of online video – such as WebRTC.
In the short term more and more online video content for desktops is likely to start to use AV1, especially as decoders are available on Windows 10 and most web browsers. Some encoders are available as well, but most are still undergoing testing at some stage or other.
It will be some time until AV1 becomes a widely available option to encode or convert videos, and for now it is certainly not as easy as it is to convert WMV to MP4 for example in Movavi Video Converter. As its popularity goes it will likely be introduced and more widely-supported by video software.
By this point you should be able to see the potential of AV1 and how it could legitimately emerge as the de facto format for online videos in a few years from now. However it is not a done deal yet, and to get to that point it will have to fend off competition from HEVC and possibly even the newer VVC.
If it is successful, AV1 will probably be the format that manages to wrest control of online videos from H.264.
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