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The VP9 vs. HEVC controversy

hevc vp9 video standardsOne of the main challenges facing Internet providers, mobile services, and content producers is delivering ever increasing amounts of video over the same networks (networks do get upgraded over time, but not nearly as fast as the rate of video usage). To do that they either need to make the videos smaller in terms of file sizes (how much they can be compressed), or make them look just as good at lower bitrates. Either way the viewer will have a good video experience. So the choices are quality and bitrate, or quality and compression.

High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC) is the next generation compression standard designed by the Joint Collaborative Team on Video Coding (JCT-VC). The goal of HEVC is to keep the same quality level as H.264 but double the data compression ratio (make the files smaller). It can also provide improved video quality at the same bitrate when compared to H.264. But as of today, HEVC isn’t supported on a single browser.

Enter Google’s VP9. Well, actually Google has been in the business for quite a while. They created their series of compression standards to compete with alternatives like H.264. VP9 is royalty free and an open standard. Similarly to HEVC, VP9 aims to reduce bitrate while maintaining the same video quality (as compared to the previous V8 standard). Google also wants to reach the point where it can compete with HEVC directly by providing better compression efficiency.

And that’s where the controversy kicks in. Some studies have been done showing that HEVC firmly has the upper hand. But in an article in this month, Jan Ozer revealed his own tests showing VP9 actually competes well with HEVC. He also referenced some other recent studies that have shown the same.

The bottom line though, was that VP9 appears to be as good as HEVC in the results they achieve. Given that HEVC isn’t yet supported on any browser, and VP9 is supported on Firefox, Opera and Chrome (accounting for approximately 60% of the browser market), it appears VP9 is the choice to use for video compression.

Not everyone agrees though, and the studies mentioned in the article are still in progress. And by the end of 2015 HEVC should have some support in browsers. The controversy is bound to continue. At least until the next standard is revealed.

Oliver Burt

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