If there’s one absolute in technology, it’s that it’s always changing. This seems especially true when it comes to the standards (think codecs) used for video. And there are often competing codecs in each generation of standards. This time around, there is the HEVC supported by the MPEG LA group, and VP9 backed by Google.
Both codecs improve on the current H.264 HD video standard, though the technology behind each is slightly different. Both provide smaller file sizes with same quality as H.264. They also can provide high quality video at lower bit rates than H.264.
The combination of these improvements are really what is needed to support video on an Internet that is becoming very crowded. Even as the bandwidth we use to access the internet increases, the number of people using it is also increasing. Both VP9 and HEVC will allow you to continue to enjoy your streaming video without buffering or choppiness (assuming you have a good connection on your end).
Which one of these standards will win out over the other one? Both have significant financial backing and industry influence. HEVC is a proprietary codec backed by many in the industry but written by a group called the MPEG LA (who also created the H.264 codec). The group is currently trying to get agreement from the major companies (like Apple, Microsoft, BBC, LG and others) on licensing terms. Until that agreement is in place, everyone is a bit nervous as the royalty costs can be overwhelming for some companies.
Google’s VP9, on the other hand, is free and open source. Many manufacturers have already signed up to use the codecs in future smart TVs and appliances. VP9 has great appeal because it is free and there are certain groups that will only use open source software on principle. The downside of VP9 is mostly politics. Google already controls a great deal of technology relating to the Internet. Do we want them in control of video codecs as well? It’s worth noting Google was also the force behind other video standards over the years with some degree of success, though recently H.264 became more popular.
The folks over at Streamingmedia.com have pointed out that the licensing terms of HEVC might turn out to be the biggest factor in how fast it is adopted. You can read the full article here. In the meantime though, support for VP9 is rolling out in every version of Chrome, Chrome OS and various other devices and browsers.
It may not exactly be a race to the finish, but it will be interesting to see how it plays out.