H265 versus AV1

Category: News / Date: 5 February 2018

H265 versus AV1

H265 versus AV1

In the Live Streaming and Video Contribution World – By Mark Andrews

Following on from our blogs of H264 versus H265, it is now time to look at an emerging codec, AV1.

H265, also known as HEVC, is developed by the Joint Collaborative Team on Video Coding (JCT-VC) and is the next generation of video compression after the globally adopted H264/AVC codec. HEVC is 50% more efficient than H264 and is now being universally adopted across many media workflows. Apple announced it is supporting H265 in June 2017, though Soliton were early adopters of it back in 2014 for their video contribution products for live streaming from the camera across multiple bonded 4G networks.

Now with Apple recently announcing their support of AV1, this has caused some “internet experts” to wrongly state this will be the demise of H265 adoption.

AV1 is a royalty-free video coding format designed for video transmissions mainly over the Internet, which started life as a successor to Google’s VP9 codec. It is being developed by the Alliance for Open Media (AOMedia), which is a consortium built up of some pretty hard hitters in the industry including Amazon, Apple, ARM, Cisco, Facebook, Google, IBM, Intel Corporation, Microsoft, Mozilla, Netflix, and Nvidia.

So if you were to believe some of the opinions of the internet, then AV1 will win out the day and make H265 obsolete because it is royalty free. But is it that simple? Did H264 disappear overnight due to H265? The answer is of course not.

A great article posted by Dom Robinson on Streaming Media entitled “It's Not AV1 vs. HEVC” discusses the fact that modern day companies are not exposed to the same risk as they were 20 years ago when buying big monolithic systems; it was a choice of one over the other. With Opex versus Capex and the advent of cloud based solutions, it is possible to have a mix of technologies, which is in line with the customers own needs and expectations. To quote Dom in his article, “if you make a codec choice today you should be able to readily change or add a new codec tomorrow, without having to start again from scratch.”

When I was a child, we had the VHS versus Betamax war, which people never get tired of quoting, despite it being over 30 years ago. Indeed when I started working in the Media industry, I was amazed at all the different codecs used by different camera’s and how all the different editing platforms in post-production had to cope. Even MXF as a standard container format seemed to have its own version depending on the manufacturer. To allow freedom of choice and let customers use what was best for them, they could all mainly interoperate, and no specific editing camera codec has ever won out.

H265 and HEVC have been adopted by many major camera manufacturers, video contribution solutions, video management platforms and many software distribution systems. It is a relatively recent investment and the benefits of HEVC have already been proven. The systems are out there and being used daily by a major mass of customers and this continues to grow. No one is going to give up on that investment -  being second to market is always going to put you at a major disadvantage in terms of adoption without some major compelling technical benefits. Additionally they would need to be compelling by at least 50% (such as H265 was over H264) to make a business case sustainable in terms of operational savings.

What about royalty payments? Again, there are some misunderstanding here. It is not the user who is paying here. These are costs borne out by the manufacturer. Soliton pays its royalty dues and is not a customer issue. Therefore, this should not be a hindrance for adoption by customers and end users.

Soliton provides live video contribution systems for outside broadcast events, such as live news gathering or mobile live sports production, or for mobile video surveillance for public safety applications. As one of the early adopters of H265, they have spent 1000 of development hours developing a FPGA chip providing superb video quality with low latencies, even when bit rate is limited on the external mobile phone network for streaming.  A major benefit of H265 over H264 is that it can work on very low bitrates making it an extremely reliable solution.  With these benefits, why would a customer go to the expense of moving to AV1 unless it can provide a superior performance? This is currently not possible. Also, Soliton has moved to support an open workflow that supports H265 working with many partners, both in the broadcast market and the video surveillance market. IP workflows with RTMP/RTSP supporting H265 is gaining much traction and adoption by many manufacturers looking at interoperability. AV1 is very much in its infancy.

If you are now looking for efficiencies in your company that you can support for the foreseeable future, with a ROI over the next 1 – 2 years, then H265 is the way to go. Major OTT services such as Netflix will naturally adopt AV1, they are currently also using H265, but it will take some time before this is universally and widely adopted by the mainstream manufacturers, if at all, before another standard comes our way. In a world of open standards, adoption and interoperability is key. This has already been proved and continues to be proved by H265, with the fact 100’s of million devices are already supporting HEVC. AV1 is an option, but until it becomes mainstream and universally adopted, then its benefit for the customer is extremely restricted.