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AV1 Is Ready to Stream

Backed by giants such as Netflix, Amazon, Facebook, Google and Microsoft, AV1 is ready for its close-up.

Alliance for Open Media (AOMedia) last week released the 1.0 version of AV1, a next-generation, royalty-free video codec that the developer says has a 30% bit-rate efficiency edge over current-generation technologies like VP9 and HEVC.

The consortium is releasing AV1 in the hopes that it will deliver improved bandwidth efficiencies amid the move to video formats with more pixels (like 4K and 8K), better pixels (High Dynamic Range and Wide Color Gamut), and 360-degree video, virtual reality and augmented reality apps and services.

Though AV1, which is also said to have a 65% bandwidth savings over the older but widely used AVC/H.264 codec, could eventually find a home inside set-top boxes and, perhaps even further out, broadcast TV signals, it’s initially expected to find adoption on web browsers and other types of over-the-top streaming devices.

“Video is changing the way the internet is evolving,” Gabe Frost, executive director and a founding board member of AOMedia and a principal engineering manager for Microsoft’s operating systems group, said in an interview. Another chief aim for AV1 and its royalty-free model is to eliminate some of the pricing uncertainty that has enveloped codecs like HEVC, which has been saddled by multiple patent pools and little in the way of uniformity on rates.

AOMedia, launched in 2015, was formed with the core idea that the underlying video codec technology had become a commodity, and that a royalty-free model represented the best path forward.

While that idea was spawned from early meetings with Microsoft and Google, it later expanded to include several other players in the ecosystem, including chipmakers, distributors, web services companies and video equipment makers.

Examples of founding members of AOMedia include Amazon, Apple, ARM, Cisco Systems, Facebook, Google, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Mozilla, Netflix and Nvidia. Promoter members include Adobe, CableLabs, Bitmovin, Hulu, Vidyo and Broadcom.

Frost said every member company of AOMedia signs an agreement that licenses the essential technology that’s used in the final AV1 codec on a royalty-free basis.

Frost said desktop browsers will start to support AV1 later this year, and the technology will start to appear in devices such as gaming consoles toward the end of 2018.

Michelle Abraham, senior analyst, media and communications at S&P Global Market Intelligence, said the buy-in among a wide number of companies and players gives AV1 a “good opportunity” to make waves in the video codec market.

She said its greatest opportunity will come from video streaming and OTT, but she doesn’t expect to see it widely used by broadcasters, who typically go with technologies that are tied to international standards bodies.