4K isn’t part of the current round of fighting.
A quick disclaimer: I own a Chromecast dongle. I don’t use it much. My daughter plays Just Dance Now every couple of days on it. And sometimes we watch our pictures on the large screen. So I can’t be called a true user of these devices.
That said, these devices are heavily used for streaming, which means video, which means a video codec. Which means I am a bit interested in them lately. Especially now with the H.265 crisis and the newly found Alliance for Open Media.
We had two launches lately and rumors of a third one. Let’s look at each one of them from the prism of codec support and resolution.
Apple TV has its issues with the web. The spec of this upcoming device, from Apple’s website, include the following video formats:
H.264 video up to 1080p, 60 frames per second, High or Main Profile level 4.2 or lower
H.264 Baseline Profile level 3.0 or lower with AAC-LC audio up to 160 Kbps per channel, 48kHz, stereo audio in .m4v, .mp4, and .mov file formats
MPEG-4 video up to 2.5 Mbps, 640 by 480 pixels, 30 frames per second, Simple Profile with AAC-LC audio up to 160 Kbps, 48kHz, stereo audio in .m4v, .mp4, and .mov file formats
Running an A8 chip, it can be deduced that it might actually have H.265 capabilities, but Apple decided to not use them for the time being – the same way it removed H.265 from FaceTime on the iPhone 6.
They also aren’t going overboard with the resolution, sticking to 1080p, streamed with H.264. The nice thing here is their 60 fps support.
There’s no 4K though. And no H.265.
Amazon Fire TV
Amazon announced its own response to the Apple TV a day after the Apple TV announcement. As with all classic after-Apple announcement, this had the two obvious features: lower price point and better hardware.
The better hardware part boils down to support for 4K resolutions.
The specs indicate the following content formats:
Video: H.265, H.264, Audio: AAC-LC, AC3, eAC3 (Dolby Digital Plus), FLAC, MP3, PCM/Wave, Vorbis, Dolby Atmos (EC3_JOC), Photo: JPEG, PNG, GIF, BMP
So higher resolutions probably get streamed at H.265 while everything else is H.264.
Here’s the rub though:
- Amazon is now part of the Alliance for Open Media – created to ditch royalty bearing codecs such as H.265
- The HEVC Advance announced their intent to
leechask payment based on streamed content and not only devices sold. How does that get calculated into a low margin retailer such as Amazon?
This is a hardware device. No real option to add or replace video codecs easily – at least not at such high resolutions. They worked on this one for over a year, so they couldn’t have foretold the mess that H.265 patents will be today. They didn’t want (or couldn’t) risk it with VP9. So now what?
Will this 4K device be useful for watching Amazon video movies at 4K? How higher will these need to be priced to deal with the royalty headaches of H.265?
Google’s YouTube service certainly isn’t going to support H.265 for its 4K streams anytime soon.
Can’t see 4K using H.265 on a hardware device in 2015 the right choice. Sorry.
Only rumors for now, but it seems this one will be announced on September 29th. We will know soon enough how stupid my estimates really are.
Here we go – these are my own estimates:
- We really know little about the Chromecast’s specs. Even the one on the market – no clue on the video codec in it. It might be VP8 or H.264. My bet is on H.264 on the older model
- The new Chromecast won’t support H.265. It will have support for H.264 and VP9
- It won’t do 4K. It will focus on software related features to beat competition
- VP9 will be there to better work with YouTube’s new VP9 support and reduce bandwidth strains on both Google and the end customer
We will see in a a week how I fared on this one.
While 4K is a higher resolution than 1080p, it is too new and too niche at this point:
- There aren’t enough TVs out there supporting 4K
- There’s not enough content available
- No one decided way of compressing such resolutions (with a nice patents minefield to go along with it)
- And there aren’t many viewers who will be able to see the difference anyway