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Reality vs. Hype: What the Global Media Format Report tells us

global media format reportEarlier this year Encoding.com published the 2015 Global Media Format Report. Encoding.com is one of the largest cloud-based encoding services with over 2000 publishers. They have a huge amount of data they can use to say what sorts of video formats are actually being used and to identify trends.

How much data do they have? Well, they took in 951TB of data (that’s the raw feed sent to the encoders – what they call “source content ingested”). The TB stands for terabyte and the amount they received is the same as 951,000 GB. That’s a lot of video no matter how you look at it.

They also reported the average number of target outputs for each source was 12. That means each video was encoded into 12 different formats on average. Back in 2008, the average was two output formats per source. That’s a sign of the diversity of devices, browsers, and computing environments people are using today compared to just seven years ago.

Screen resolutions

The report also breaks down the resolutions people are using to send to various screens and devices. The data isn’t what you’d expect, or at least not what you’d expect if you read the news. In the past year there’s been a lot of talk about 4k and how much better it is than 1080p. It seems everything is labelled “HD” and everyone is watching that way – or so the impression is based on the hype. But their data shows nearly the opposite.

For desktops and connected TVs only 44% of the video was encoded in 1080p. Another 33% was 720p and 18% was 480p. When was the last time you heard people talk about 480p (in the news I mean)? That leaves only 5% encoded in the new 4k resolution. I know much of the content you can purchase or stream online is offered in both HD (720p or above) and SD (480p). But HD seems to be more and more the default. That’s true according to this data, but it doesn’t look like it will get better than that without something significant happening with 4k this year.

For other devices like mobiles and tablets, the data bucks the HD popular trend too, though for understandable reasons. The 1080p resolution doesn’t even show up on their data in the report. And 720p is only 9% of their total. Most video publishers intentionally encode to a lower resolution in order to maintain compatibility with older phones (not everyone has an iPhone 6 or Droid Turbo), but also to manage playback quality on mobile networks.  So even though many devices are capable of much higher resolutions, video isn’t being provided in a higher quality for practical reasons. Though I love the HD screen of my iPad, I’d much rather be able to watch a whole video without interruption than be frustrated over a choppy or buffering stream.

Codecs and containers

Encoding.com combined codecs and containers into one statistic to show what was used the most. The service provides over 20 different options for encoding, but 64% of the video was encoded in H.264. WebM was in second place at 9%, followed by Flash at 7%. It isn’t a surprise to see H.264 in the number one spot, but WebM is a new entry into the top three having pushed out FLV. Chrome supports WebM and has been growing in market share over the past couple of years. More browsers are supporting WebM too, but its growth may be mostly due to Chrome.

Flash on the other hand, is still being used but primarily as a fall back for older browsers that don’t support HTML5. It’s expected that its share of the encoding time will continue to decrease over the course of 2015.

And while there’s been a lot of talk about HEVC, it only accounted for about 4% of the total. The report concludes that people are still just testing it out. But there were plenty of reasons not to use HEVC in 2014 (the time period the report covers) most of which have to do with licenses and fees. But much of that has been resolved in 2015, so perhaps we’ll see more of it being used in the future.

Adaptive bitrates

One of the biggest areas of growth encoding.com had was in adaptive bitrates. It is one of the ways you can manage streaming to multiple device types with unpredictable bandwidth. There are quite a few different standards out there on how to do adaptive streaming, but one surpassed all the others. HLS, or HTTP Live Streaming, came in at 75% of encodings using adaptive bitrates. It turns out people don’t just love Apple devices, they love their standards too – at least the one for HLS.

People are adopting HLS for other uses and devices beyond iPhones and Macs due to the advanced features it offers. You can see what browsers support HLS by checking out the table on this website. The list is maintained by JWPlayer, one of the most popular video players on the web.

Another in the news and popular buzzword is DASH. It’s usually used in combination with HEVC (as in MPEG DASH/HEVC). Together they provide the opportunity to deliver astounding video quality at low bitrates. But just like HEVC, only about 5% of publishers are using DASH to encode with adaptive bitrates. Again the report suggests people are still just testing it out. Maybe so, or maybe they are just waiting for the dust to settle on all the new standards, codecs, and compression algorithms before moving on to something that’s still the “next generation”.

But what about this year…

The 2015 Global Media Format report is actually based on all 2014 data. Streamingmeadia.com reported that encoding.com would update the report about every six months. I haven’t seen an update yet, but when it comes out I’ll be sure to share my observations and the data in another blog. Until then, do you have any predictions on what it might show?

Oliver Burt

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