UPDATE: The codec war is HEVC/H.265 vs AV1. After reading this short post, I suggest you head over to that article to get a wider angle of the topic.
There’s a codec war going on and it is about to get an upgrade to a newer version.
If you’ve been following WebRTC for a while, you should already know that the video codec issue is an open debate. Or more like an official war among WebRTC proponents.
The main themes around this fight can be summed in two main debates:
- Paid versus free: H.264 requires a license to use and deploy, which prohibits a lot of use cases and adopters; VP8 is free, allowing everyone to use it (on paper at least)
- Interoperable versus new: H.264 is commonly used with a huge ecosystem of existing vendors and deployed products, making it suitable for interoperability and adoption; VP8 is brand new, making its current footprint in chipsets, vendors and knowledge significantly smaller
While companies are fighting this round with no apparent winner so far, there’s another round brewing, waiting just around the corner: the successors of both of these codecs.
H.265 is the successor of H.264. It is led by the same group of companies who will be collecting royalties for its use, and is said to be twice as efficient in the bitrate it requires to get to the same video quality (but requires 3 times the CPU resources).
Approved out of the over, there are companies who are actively promoting it already. I’ve seen demos on YouTube from DoCoMo, Qualcomm, Ericsson and Cisco.
The main marketing pitch of companies? Video takes up most of the internet traffic. Being able to shrink it by 50% means better utilization of the network.
VP9 is Google’s successor to VP8. Its decoder can already be found in the Chrome browser (at least from what I could deduce on the web).
There’s not much information about it. The only thing I found in comparison to H.265 is this comment by Chester Moy on a Google+ thread:
According to a presentation by Google, VP9 is ~7% behind HEVC/h.265 in terms of quality/bitrate when they tested VP9 in Q4 of 2011 (They started developing VP9 in Q3 2011). Their goal is to become even better than HEVC.
While the details might wrong as to the exact differences, it can be easily deduced that Google is designing VP9 to be comparable in quality with H.265, sans royalty costs on patent licensing.
The crossroad isn’t going to change. The same debate between paid and free, interoperable and new will stay with us.
Don’t expect any of these codecs to find its way to a phone near you before 2014, and even then, only on high end ones. It will take several years for this technology to make any difference.
Until then, we are stuck with our current transcoding problems between VP8 and H.264.