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Royalty-Free Video Codec AV1 Keeps Gaining Ground

Jeff Baumgartner
4/9/2019
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LAS VEGAS -- NAB 2019 -- Backers of AV1, a bit-efficient video codec that's emerging as a rival to HEVC, claim that the royalty-free offering has made significant progress in terms of adoption and commercial-readiness since its splashy debut here a year ago.

As 2019 moves toward the halfway point, there's ample evidence that a decoding and encoding product ecosystem is building around AV1, and that it won't be long before there's a surge of AV1-powered content reaching the OTT video market, Nathan Egge, codec engineer with Mozilla, a key backer of the codec, said here during a briefing.

Though the initial implementations of AV1 are still based in software, support for the codec is already running in Mozilla's Firefox browser and Google's Chrome browser. Both of those examples use "dav1d," an optimized, fully featured AV1 software decoder developed by VideoLAN (still in beta) that was funded by The Alliance for Open Media, the consortium that underpins AV1's activities and includes backers such as Netflix, Google, Cisco Systems, Intel, Facebook, Apple, Amazon and Microsoft. Importantly, dav1d was funded under a BSD (Berkeley Software Distribution) license, meaning it's freely available.

The potential to get AV1 integrated with a greater number and diversity of devices got some help last week, when Samsung announced its support for AV1. Samsung did not announce its future intentions involving AV1, but it's expected that the company will stitch the codec into its lineup of smart TVs and smartphones.

In a similar vein, Google's Android Q will introduce support for AV1, and there's expectations that a future version of Android TV will do something similar.

On the content side, Egge pointed out that YouTube announced last year at IBC that the video streaming service will also be tossing support to AV1. That's not a huge surprise, given that Google's among the big backers of AV1, but getting an immensely popular OTT service like YouTube on board will give AV1 a big boost on the content side.

Meanwhile, expectations have not changed for AV1 hardware support. Egge said first-gen AV1 hardware likely will be out in 2020, noting that AOMedia has been working to accelerate the speed of the AV1 reference encoder to make it production-ready.

Intel, Netflix team on AV1 effort
On Monday, Intel and Netflix also gave momentum for AV1 a jolt with the introduction of a high-performance video codec called SVT-AV1.

Intel and Netflix are open-sourcing SVT-AV1, which is a follow-up to a version Intel developed for the previous-generation VP9 codec.

Here at NAB, Intel showed off its new AV1-based wares running a 4K video stream at 60 frames per second at 10 Mbit/s.

Bit-rate efficiencies will be increasingly important to all types of streaming video services, but will be particularly helpful to new types of VR offerings that are more immersive, as well as those that are more interactive, Lynn Comp, VP of Intel's Network Platforms Group and GM of the company's Visual Cloud Division, said in a briefing.

She said an example of the new level of rich, interactivity that is coming to the OTT world and will require an extra level of media processing is Netflix's Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, a series with multiple, user-selected endings.

Netflix will be doing its own productization based on SVT-AV1, but a mix of other suppliers, including Harmonic, Beamr, ZTE and Ateme, that work with cable operators and other types of service providers are also tied into this.

"We're supplying to both ecosystems," Comp said.

The initial focus of SVT-AV1 is for on-demand content, but there's a path to get it to live/real-time video as well, she added.

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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