Today’s announcement from the Alliance for Open Media is a big one for the industry. Today, after three years of collaborative innovation amongst many technology companies, the next generation video codec has arrived. Welcome, AV1!
AV1 is a product of the Alliance for Open Media (AOM). AOM was founded in September 2015 by Google, Mozilla, Cisco, Microsoft, Netflix, Amazon, and Intel to create the next generation video codec for the Internet. We joined forces with them shortly after starting project Thor, having discovered that others were innovating in similar ways around new codecs.
Today, most of the Internet leverages H.264. While wildly successful, it is 15 years old and there have been many advances in video coding techniques since its standardization. In addition, new applications are driving the need for even higher quality, lower bandwidth video. The arrival of 4K TV — and beyond — is one of these forces. Another is consumer demand for extremely high-quality screen sharing, requiring crisp edges and high frame rates at the same time. New applications, like Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) put even more demands on codecs.
Initially, many in our industry had put their hopes on HEVC (also known as H.265) as the successor to H.264. Unfortunately, the licensing conditions for HEVC have become cumbersome. There are three (3) patent pools formed so far, one of which has not published its pricing, and there are several patent holders that have not joined any of those pools. Considering only the pricing published to date, the minimum cost per-unit and the large annual caps have caused HEVC to become a non-starter for many products and projects beyond some high-end systems.
The newly released AV1 codec improves on the coding efficiency of current, widely deployed video codecs by 30% or more depending on the content.
AOM was formed to respond to these challenges and responded it has. The newly released AV1 codec improves on the coding efficiency of current, widely deployed video codecs by 30% or more depending on the content. This makes it suitable for the most demanding, high-resolution and frame-rate applications. It has built-in capabilities for screen coding and avoids the interoperability challenges of incompatible profiles. It is optimized for both streaming media and real-time, making it valuable across a range of applications. And, perhaps most importantly, royalty free has been a primary consideration in its design. All participants in the process, AOM members and adopters of AV1 alike, agree to license any of their patents applicable to AV1 on a royalty-free basis, and the codec was carefully designed to avoid technologies that would get in the way of the royalty-free goal.
Much work remains to be done before AV1 sees widespread deployment, including hardware and software implementation, optimizations for real-time operation, and interoperability testing — all typical for introduction of new video codecs. This will come over time, and AV1 will pave the way for the next generation of video on the Internet.