Is VP9 About to Kill H.265 Before it Gets Off the Ground?

January 13, 2014

Bye bye H.265, hello VP9. Or is it really?

bear fight

In this small world of video conferencing, there’s a battle brewing. One fought between the incumbent players and the entrants who bring with them this new technology called WebRTC. One of the main contention points at this time is the mandatory video codec: will it be H.264, a royalty bearing codec, as the incumbents want; or will it be VP8, which is free.

I’ve written about this topic before.

What is important to understand here, that the batter is larger than WebRTC’s MTI. It has a lot more to do with YouTube than it has to WebRTC. If there was a need for proof, then just read the news from CES about YouTube, 4K and VP9.

The short story?

  • YouTube is adding 4K support (that’s 4 times the resolution of 1080p HD video)
  • They are doing that with VP9 codec and not H.264 or H.265
  • They lined up “a few” hardware partners: ARM, Broadcom, Intel, LG, Marvell, MediaTek, Nvidia, Panasonic, Philips, Qualcomm, RealTek, Samsung, Sigma, Sharp, Sony and Toshiba (that’s like the who’s who of chipsets and consumer electronics)

Why does it matter?

  • I’ve asked a couple of months ago someone in the TV if he heard about VP9. He said all the chatter with TV is around H.265. This may now change
  • YouTube accounts for 19% of downstream traffic in North America. That’s second to only Netflix’s 31.6% (source). That’s most of the video on the internet
  • Neflix is taking the route of H.265 and 4K. Fragmentation of video coding is here to stay
  • VP9 seems to be taking no prisoners in its effort to build the missing ecosystem around it. It is doing so at the speed of Google, which is faster than any standards committee is going to take to get H.265 the wide acceptance it needs

Will this kill H.265 before it gets off the ground? As I’ve stated in the past, the only thing H.264 has over VP8 is ecosystem and hardware acceleration. Both are immaterial when it comes to H.265 and VP9. Google knows that as well and is making the right moves to position VP9 as the future codec.

If it could nail this one in either YouTube/streaming or WebRTC – it will be enough of a tipping point for the other to follow suite.

And if you are contemplating which video codec to use in your WebRTC application then read more about VP9 codec in WebRTC.

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  1. So H.265 and VP9 were both finalized at about the same time (couple of months).

    Both use about 50% less traffic at the same quality when compared to H.264. But both also do about 50% more processing to get to that size. H.265 might have a quality edge over VP9. VP9 needs less processing. The same was true for VP8. So maybe even in hardware VP9 will use less power.

    H.264 came on the market about 2003, but it was a very different world than today.

    Today Android has the largest share on mobile. Chrome has the largest desktop browser share.

    So it is a much more equal race this time round ?

    1. So for WebRTC, basically, H.264 is mostly free to use. So it’s now indrectly the “mandatory to implement”. And certain browsers/devices/software will support VP9 and others will support H.265 and fallback to H.264 when they don’t match.

      Is that what WebRTC video is going to look like ?

      1. Can’t say that… H.264 might be “free”, but Chrome (biggest footprint of WebRTC) isn’t going to add it to WebRTC any time soon – unless it is officially announced as MTI.

        The default now is VP8. The more time it takes the IETF to decide, the better positioned VP8 will be to become MTI.

          1. Just did a git checkout, –rt for vp9 is available and does produce a result. I’m not an export on the quality of the result.

  2. It was encouraging to see more comprehensive hardware support for VPx announced. In other industries the evolution of HEVC is also continuing. Elemental has shown 1080p60 & p120 and 4Kp60 real-time encoding. Real-time is a genuinely big-deal in broadcasting but irrelevant for someone like Netflix.

    In the end I expect that we will live with both codecs broadly deployed, although perhaps skewed somewhat across different application spaces. Even that is a huge leap forward for Google VPx.

  3. This is a strange article considering VP9 has already lost the war.

    If you are considering buying a 4K television today, you are going to buy one that supports the 4K movies and shows, which means Amazon, Netflix, or M-Go, all of which have built-in support in several 4K televisions. These services and televisions all use H.265.

    Youtube is for watching cat videos on your computer. I know that is an exaggeration, but no one buys a television to watch Youtube videos. (If Google wants people to take it seriously, they should create a new brand to differentiate it from cat videos and people falling off their bike videos).

    I’m all for Google and even VP9, but, sadly, the war has already been won. I’ll give them credit for trying, though.

    1. Tom,

      I am not sure by which parameter you measure that. Most smart TVs sold these days have VP9 decoding in their hardware as well.

      I believe the actual war between H.265 and VP9 hasn’t really started yet…

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