Compressed video is ubiquitous on the internet and in our daily lives. Many media producers, both online and offline, currently use h.264 and HEVC codecs to compress their video. However, these proprietary codecs come at a high cost in the form of licensing and royalty fees. Recently, a new video codec called AV1 was released to compete directly with HEVC. What makes this high performance codec especially interesting is the fact that it is royalty free. This, along with its impressive industry support, means that it is set to make quite an impact on the media landscape.

AV1, which was officially released on March 28th 2018, is a product of the Alliance for Open Media (AOM), whose founding members are many of some of the biggest and most influential tech and media companies in the world, including the likes of Amazon, Apple, Cisco, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Netflix. The AOM’s members and promoters list is truly impressive, and includes a broad range of prominent hardware and software vendors.

With such strong industry support, mainstream adoption is almost guaranteed, although it will not be immediate. 2020 is the year that AV1 is expected to take off, due to the fact that hardware implementations of the codec are expected to hit the market in that year.

Independent tests of the codec have proven it competes extremely well, often beating HEVC on a level playing field, and if you consider that in 2016, 73% of all internet traffic was already video, and a rise to 82% is expected by 2021 (source: Cisco), then the ability to squeeze more video into the same amount of bandwidth is a big advantage. Moreover, being able to do so without having to pay extra for that privilege seems a very attractive proposition.

What exactly the impact on the market will be is hard to gauge however, because the organisations behind the competing proprietary technologies will not simply sit back and watch their own demise, and companies that have already heavily invested in HEVC may want to ride out their investment before considering jumping ship. On a tech battlefield such as this, one might expect massive patent wars, but the AOM has apparently been very careful about the legal aspects of this technology, so there may not be too much to battle about. We shall see.

However it unfolds, the next few years are sure to bring interesting and significant changes to this market.


Originally published on July 6, 2018, by Edwin Edelenbos on LinkedIn.

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