Behind the scenes of AV1 at Vimeo

Vittorio Giovara
Jun 12, 2019 · 3 min read

We believe that everyone can and should have the right tools they need to make beautiful videos come to life and share their stories all across the globe. Today, we’re excited to announce support for the AV1 codec experience for creators and viewers worldwide.

Vimeo’s beloved Staff Picks will now be available in this codec for any supported platform (such as the most recent Chrome and Firefox). This will enable us to stream content at a reduced bitrate without loss of visual quality and to join the movement for royalty-free video at the same time.

AV1 is a next-generation codec designed by the Alliance for Open Media, which Vimeo joined last year. This is the culmination of a joint effort by Google, Mozilla, and Cisco as founding members, and countless other companies, such as Intel, Twitch, Microsoft, and so many more. Not only is this codec ripe with innovative technologies and features, it’s also the first royalty-free video codec to see widespread adoption, meaning everyone can implement and ship AV1-powered products without the risk of infringing on anyone’s patents (or getting a speeding ticket for innovating too much). In the continued quest to democratize high-quality video, this levels the playing field. Creators will now benefit from the ability to stream exceptional videos all over the world thanks to this widely adopted tech.

As a matter of fact, I believe we’re among the first ones to truly embrace the open spirit around AV1. We’ve partnered with Mozilla to use their rav1e encoder, contributing to its development and participating in the community. This encoder is branded as “the safest and fastest AV1 encoder,” featuring the built-in robustness of the Rust coding language in addition to all the other encoding tools normally found in an encoder. By using a thin layer of C bindings, we’ve been able to use this encoder’s APIs in our software as in any other, and we’ve prepared a patch for FFmpeg to make its adoption simple and possible for others.

There are a lot of moving pieces, and we are working quickly to integrate this new technology. But that is expected, as it’s still the early days of the project, and everything is in heavy flux. Despite that, the visual quality of this encoder is actually quite good and already better than or comparable to the other encoders we use in production. We anticipate that things will only improve from here on out.

What do I mean exactly by “embracing the open spirit around AV1?” Well, let me tell you a brief backstory: in 2003, a shiny new video technology was standardized, called H.264. It was a very good step forward from MPEG2, and soon it became the ubiquitous codec that everybody needed to implement if they wanted to stream video. A huge part of its success was exclusively played by the open-source community that founded x264 — a good, free, and open-source encoder written by the most brilliant minds on the planet. This encoder and the FFmpeg toolkit revolutionized the video-over-Internet industry into what we know today, becoming an irreplaceable tool for those looking to stream video, and empowering free, accessible, and modifiable technology. In order for AV1 to succeed, there is a need of an encoder like x264, a free and open-source encoder, written by the community, for the community, and available to everyone: rav1e. Vimeo believes in what Mozilla is doing.

While rav1e is not the only open-source AV1 encoder, we do believe it is the AV1 encoder best suited to engage the open-source community and the one best able to attract proper external contributions as well as guarantee a certain code quality level. AV1 is the most anticipated successor of H.264, and it delivers a fully engaged, inclusive community, like the one that was created around dav1d, the open-source AV1 decoder supported by TwoOrioles and VideoLabs.

Overall, this is an investment not only in the future of video but also in Vimeo’s larger commitment to empowering open-source communities across the industry, all over the world.

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