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HVEC, VP9 in close battle for video codec leadership

Stephen Wright, Openwave Mobility

August 25, 2014

Stephen Wright, Openwave MobilityAugust 25, 2014

The battle between today's leading video codecs -- HEVC and VP9 -- will be a closer fight than we saw between the leaders in the prior generation, VP8 and AVC. There may be room in the market for both – at least in the short term.

The Advanced Video Codec (AVC, a.k.a. H.264) will likely remain the dominant, mature video codec for the mobile market in the short term. Content providers will not provide High Efficiency Video Codec (HEVC, otherwise known as H.265) or VP9 variants for mobile until a critical mass of mobile devices provide support. The mobile market will not have critical mass until hardware accelerated chipsets are available, and these devices permeate the market.

VP9 is the follow on to VP8, which Google used in its WebM format. VP8 was developed by On2 Technologies, who were acquired by Google in February 2010. WebM is a combination of the VP8 video codec, OGG Vorbis audio, and the Matroksa container format. All of which are open source. With WebM, Google attempted to exploit the chink in the AVC armour that it is a patented technology.

It is hard to predict a clear winner between HEVC and VP9.

Apple has shown no sign of adding support for VPx codecs, and maintains its support for the MPEG standards (AVC and HEVC). Given the popularity of Apple devices, HEVC is all but guaranteed a place in the ecosystem. The first 4K device from Apple should validate this.

At this point, comparative studies show HEVC to be the superior format. The situation may change over time as the codecs mature.

On paper, HEVC has 10 times the encoding complexity of AVC and twice decoding complexity. This means that modern laptop and high end mobile devices area already capable of decoding in software. The cost is a heavy battery drain, which can be addressed with hardware acceleration

The success of VP9 depends on support from clients and content providers, and in Google the owner of the standard has a large share of the client and content market.

YouTube already publishes VP9 content as variants in its DASH format, with no current support for HEVC. However if Apple releases a 4K-capable device using HEVC and maintains its stance in not supporting VP9, YouTube will be forced to either:

  • Encode 4K using AVC. Unlikely as the bandwidth costs would be prohibitive.
  • Do not provide 4K to Apple users. Again, an unlikely scenario.
  • Provide HEVC variants. The most likely outcome.

    To read more of this external content and to leave a comment, go to "The rise of 4k video." 

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