Codec fragmentation and the encoding landscape - Stefan Lederer, CEO and co-founder, Bitmovin

Codec fragmentation, Stefan Lederer, Bitmovin, Philips, Samsung, Sony, Toshiba, Google, Firefox, Apple’s Safari browser

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Consumers have access to more online video content from more sources than ever before, which means it’s crucial that operators can provide the highest quality online experience as competition increases. It goes without saying that codecs play a vital role in video production and delivery, but there isn’t much consensus about which one is the best for delivering the best video playback, with greater efficiency and in a cost-effective way.

Our recent video developer report revealed that H.264/AVC remains the preferred codec for developers with 91% using it. However, in 2020 interest in other codecs is expected to grow. Google’s VP9 has received a major boost as hardware vendors, including Philips, Samsung, Sony and Toshiba, all announced that they’ll soon support VP9 natively in their products. Additionally, based on the results of our video developer report, usage of AV1 is expected to triple in the coming year. Increased usage of HEVC, especially in 4K and HDR applications, will also progress and there is the additional promise of VVC to consider, as the codec is due to be released in October 2020.

However, we don’t believe that more codecs being available on the market will necessarily lead to greater complexity. It’s actually device fragmentation that has been and will remain, a major challenge in 2020. The reality is that consumers are watching video content on a huge number of devices and as a result, developers need to target an array of devices in various formats. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to codec selection. For example, Apple’s Safari browser supports HEVC/H.265, but not VP9. Google and Firefox are behind VP9 and AV1, steering clear of HEVC/H.265.

The way to overcome this challenge is by deploying scalable encoding solutions that support a multi-codec approach. This will be critical, as the industry today contains a lot of encoding vendors and encoding platforms that supply solutions for the most commonly used codecs such as H264 and HEVC but are not looking to support next-gen codecs that will make a difference in given scenarios.

There will always be superior technologies when it comes to codecs and the adoption of new video codecs has a very slow life cycle, but the move to a multi-codec world is one that is already beginning to take shape. With device support being the major driving factor in adoption, it will be interesting to see when publishers are going to take the plunge and deploy these new codecs, based on whether or not there are enough users on platforms to leverage them.

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