Which video codec do you need?

By Jérôme Blanc, Executive Vice President, Compression Products

Do you find it challenging to choose the right video codec – the encoding and compression standard that will help you succeed?

If you are in the business of delivering video, compression rate is key. For a given video quality, compression directly drives your delivery and storage costs. It costs double to deliver or store video content that is half as compressed. Also, if your competitors have a better video codec, they can deliver a better video quality to their subscriber base than you can. Or you will incur higher costs. Either way, you will lose to the competition. So selecting the right set of video codecs will often make the difference between success and failure.

Which video codec to choose?

Today, there are four main video codecs that you need to keep on your radar.

H.264

This video codec has been around for over 10 years and is in use everywhere today. All user devices (laptops, smartphones, etc.) and all set-top boxes have it implemented. If you want to be sure everyone can read your streams, H.264 is certainly the video codec of choice. And it’s reasonable to use it up to HD.

HEVC

This video codec is almost twice as efficient as H.264 (it produces 40%-50% smaller files at a given quality). Developed in 2013, it is now widely implemented. You can find it in many of the 4K UHD set-top boxes and 4K TVs that have hit the market over the past two years. Today, over 1 billion devices worldwide can decode HEVC. An unclear licensing scheme, however, slowed down the adoption of HEVC. But this now seems to be resolved for the most part. So you can safely use HEVC today. Also, this is the only practical way to encode 4K UHD video with 10 bits (HDR).

AV1

This video codec is a more recent design. Some studies report that it is comparable in quality to HEVC, or just 15% more efficient. But the computing power required for encoding is 100 times higher. Also, AV1 should carry no usage fee, so the licensing will be a lot more straightforward than with HEVC. There are no decoders widely available at this stage, but we should be seeing AV1 in set-top boxes and other devices by the end of 2019 or early 2020. So it’s a bit too early for regular telcos and broadcasters to deploy AV1 for now.

VVC

This video codec is currently under development, with the aim to be 30% more efficient than HEVC. For the moment, the CPU requirements are 10 times higher than for HEVC (versus 100 times for AV1), but this may evolve by the time VVC hits the market, probably in 2020. If it is successful, this video codec could become mainstream by 2022. Here again, it’s too soon to implement it. And the licensing scheme is not yet defined.

So what should you do?

Today, there is no question that you should encode in H.264 at the very least. You may also wish to encode into HEVC as a supplement to H.264, if you can afford the additional computing power. You will need to make your video streams available in HEVC if you supply 4K UHD video anyway.

AV1 could well turn out to be a valid encoding option in the future, mainly to address licensing fears that may remain over HEVC. But it will mostly apply to VOD content delivery rather than live TV, due to the underlying encoding complexity. This is why VVC seems to be a stronger contestant for a top spot tomorrow, as it consumes one-tenth of the CPU power compared to AV1, for a higher video quality. This, of course, if no licensing issue arises.

Today, Anevia’s line of Genova encoding products (Genova Live for compressing live streams and Genova File for compressing VOD content) implements both H.264 and HEVC. With these two products coming upstream of NEA-LIVE and NEA-DVR, respectively, operators that have selected Anevia’s technology have an H.264- and HEVC-compliant integrated video-delivery infrastructure.

Over time, we will integrate AV1 and/or VVC depending on performance and market adoption. So from an operator’s perspective, a Genova upgrade is all you will need to do to implement AV1, VVC or both. Either way, we’ve got you covered.

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