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AVC, HVEC, and AV1 from Streaming Media East

One big theme of the recent Streaming Media East Conference in New York was AVC vs. HVEC -- The contest to anoint the successor to AVC / H.264 as the next-gen defacto "standard" video format.

It turns out that if you're currently thinking about moving on from AVC, and considering HEVC to lower your bandwidth requirements (especially for 4K video), you may want to hold on for a bit ...

Yes, AVC / H.264 (Advanced Video Coding, aka MPEG-4 Part 10) has had a great run as the current standard video format, and is now ubiquitous from smartphones to cameras to Web streaming to TV distribution.

And the next step then was supposed to be to HEVC / H.265 (High Efficiency Video Coding), brought to you by the same kind of international standardization process, and promising to provide a big improvement -- the same quality at half the data rate (albeit while requiring significantly greater encoding time and heavier decoding overhead).

But while AVC survived market confusion from unclear licensing costs, the situation with HEVC is significantly worse, with several different groups of IP holders in the hunt for royalties. The full costs for HEVC still are not known, but several groups announced significant royalties well beyond current rates for MPEG-4, which provided strong motivation to bring together competing royalty-free codec projects into a single joint initiative.

Which brings us to the Alliance for Open Media (AOM), which is finalizing the initial release of its AO Media (AV1) royalty-free and open video codec, due by the end of the first quarter of next year, and positioned to compete with HEVC.

AV1 consolidated independent codec projects from Google (VP10), Cisco (Thor) and Monzilla (Daali), basing the first version on the planned VP10 successor to the popular VP9 codec

AOM's full membership spans the video ecosystem, also including Intel and Microsoft, content providers Amazon and Netflix, and recently adding chip vendors AMD, ARM, and NVIDIA.

As a result, the end-to-end market strength behind AV1 looks to be a serious alternative to HEVC -- combining hardware support built into chips and therefore into mobile to set-top devices, playback support in browsers, and usage by sites like YouTube as a preferred format for delivering high-def and especially 4K video. The cost reduction from tens of millions per year to zero also provides welcome clarity and powerful support for its adoption.

So the situation is still muddy, although promising for the next generation. And meanwhile AVC still continues to deliver the video you need today.

See Jan Ozer's coverage for more detail, following up on his presentations at last year's conference (see earlier post) --

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