Will the announcement from Apple to support HEVC change the game?

At the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC17) yesterday they announced support of HEVC in macOS and iOS as well as HTTP Live Streaming (HLS).

Will this announcement change the game around future codecs?

Currently, we have 3 patent pools claiming royalties for using HEVC. MPEG LA (including amongst others Apple), HEVC Advance and lately Velos Media with patents from for example Ericsson and Sony. On top of this, we have royalties to Technicolor, a former member of HEVC Advance pool that later withdrew.

All the above patent pools and royalty claim makes HEVC very complicated and expensive to use.

An alternative codec is VP9, an open and royalty free video coding format developed by Google. In a head to head comparison between two HEVC encoders and VP9 presented by Jan Ozer at Streaming Media East May 2017 he concluded that “VP9 and both HEVC codecs produce very similar performance”. VP9 is used by for example Netflix in their mobile strategy to reduce bandwidth, as well as by most the YouTube high-quality videos.

Coming up next, we have the first codec released by the Alliance for Open Media. AV1 will replace VP9 and be another alternative to HEVC. The Alliance for Open Media is founded by leading Internet companies and founding members are Amazon, Cisco, Google, Intel, Microsoft, Mozilla, and Netflix.

Bitstream freeze of AV1 is scheduled for the end of 2017 and browser support will come close to this date. Google claims that AV1 is 35% more efficient than VP9 while Netflix stated during NAB 2017 that they see around 20% better efficiency.

According to encoding.com’s Global Media Format Report 2017, HEVC dropped over 50% from last year, from 6% to 3% of the total codec market, while VP9 made a strong debut with 11%.

So, will the announcement from Apple change the game? That Apple would support HEVC was not a huge surprise. 4K, UHD, HDR and improved video quality put a demand on more efficient encoders. As Apple has a long history of not supporting the VPx codec, and the fact that Apple is part of one of the HEVC patents pools, HEVC was a natural choice. But is it too late?

I would still put a majority of my bets on AV1 as the future codec. But the latest announcement put some additional pressure on Alliance for Open Media.

Magnus Svensson is a Media Solution Consultant and partner at Eyevinn Technology. A Swedish consultancy company specialized in streaming, VR, and gaming.

Follow me on Twitter (@svensson00) for regular updates and news.

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