Now the Hard Part for AV1: Hardware Support

LAS VEGAS — AV1, the royalty-free, next-generation video codec from the heavily backed Alliance for Open Media (AOMedia), is targeting web browsers, including Mozilla’s Firefox and Google Chrome, and a small but growing amount of content.

But a major move that will deliver widescale adoption — namely, support in hardware and chipsets — is about two years out.

That support will likely have to wait until 2020 since chip development typically takes two to three years, Matt Frost, head of strategy and partnerships for Chrome Media at Google, one of AOMedia’s members, said here Wednesday (April 11) during an opening keynote at the NAB Show’s first Streaming Summit.

AOMedia, which issued the 1.0 release of VP1 earlier this month, has strived to optimize the new codec to make hardware adoption easier, even if seeing it appear in chips won’t happen overnight, he explained.

He expects AV1’s path to be similar to the one taken by VP9, another royalty-free coded originated by Google that was released in 2013 and initially added to popular browsers such as Chrome and Firefox, followed by adoption by Google’s corporate cousin, YouTube, and Netflix.

Frost said small volumes of video in the AV1 format, largely for testing purposes, are already available via YouTube.

The 1.0 release is the first stage in this important process. “We have the code; it’s frozen,” Frost said.

AV1 is being billed as a next-gen codec that is 30% more efficient than current-gen codecs such as HEVC and VP9. Dan Rayburn, the conference chairman of the NAB Streaming Summit who moderated the discussion, said he views AV1 as a successor to HEVC, rather than a replacement.

Value Proposition

Frost acknowledged that it’s a “pain” to switch to a new codec, and that it’s costly to support multiple formats. But he likewise believes that the value will come from AV1’s bit rate efficiencies. YouTube’s adoption of VP1, he said, enabled faster start times, smoother streaming and, in some cases, a way to bump up the resolution that consumers received on their devices.

And to do all of that while saving money,” Frost said, adding later that the APIs and tools for VP9 and AV1 share some helpful similarities and could help ease that transition path.

As for the bandwidth-saving potential for AV1, Frost noted that Netflix showed off 720p streaming at a mere 207 kbps at the AV1 launch party.

Still, a big question many have about AV1 is whether it will become the target of lawsuits from other holders of intellectual property.

Frost said there was a major aim to avoid potential legal entanglements with other patent holders and patent pools, as AV1 does not use any patents that aren’t derived from those involved in the AOMedia organization, which includes Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Netflix and Facebook among its members.

AOMedia has also done its due diligence and put “a lot of rigor” into the intellectual review of AV1, Frost said, noting that there was a deep review done internally as well as another level of review with a dedicated outside counsel.

And here’s the just-in-case — AOMedia and its members have also set up a fund for the defense of AV1 against any possible patent infringement lawsuits.