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Royalty-Free AV1 Codec Turned Loose

Backed by several major players, new codec claims to hold bandwidth efficiency edge over VP9, HEVC

NEW YORK–With giants such as Netflix, Amazon, Facebook, Google and Microsoft in its corner, the Alliance for Open Media (AOMedia) has released the 1.0 version of AV1, a next-gen, royalty-free codec that claims to have a 30 percent bit-rate efficiency edge over current-gen 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), as well as the emergence of 360-degree video, virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) apps and services that need to be smooth and are poised to ratchet up bit rate requirements on TV screens, laptops, tablets and smartphones.

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

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

“Video is changing the way the internet is evolving,” Gabe Frost, the 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.

The current codec market is “gummed up” due to the cost uncertainty, Frost said, and has likewise caused friction between technology innovators that those that want to charge for patented technologies that can help them.

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.

“We all use it; it all gets baked into silicon,” Frost said.

The plan with AV1 then focused on how a new approach, despite being royalty-free, could still “create a viable business model to move the industry forward, with some certainty around the costs of producing these codecs,” he explained.

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