It seems that the last thing the telecommunications world would need is a standards fight over the best way to provide a much needed boost in compression capabilities. But that is precisely what may be on the verge of happening.
The current standard is MPEG-4, an International Telecommunication Union standard that uses the H.264 coder/decoder (codec). It was assumed that the next step in compression would be High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC), which uses the H.265 codec.
This is important: MPEG-4/H.264 simply isn’t up to the challenges coming down the pike. The next version of high-definition television, known as 4K or UltraHD, essentially doubles the number of pixels in an image and, thus, the amount of information that must be transmitted.
Ultra HD isn’t the only reason that a more potent approach is needed. The new codec will enable the same amount of content to be sent in half the bandwidth used today. This is key as mobile networks buckle under the strain of exponentially increasing traffic.
At this week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, however, Google will introduce an option to HEVC called VP9. Network World and other sites report that Google has lined up significant support for VP9, including Sony, Toshiba and other television manufacturers. Chip makers onboard include Nvidia, Qualcomm RealTek, Broadcom and others.
Google’s YouTube which, as the preeminent source of video over the Internet, stands to be a major beneficiary of the competition between VP9 and HEVC, suggested at GigaOm and at other sites that it may support both approaches.
There appear to be two reasons that Google is working outside the ITU framework. AppleInsider’s Neil Hughes reports that VP9 will be administered differently and perhaps perform better than HEVC:
The successor to VP8 has been in development at Google for some time, and the company has suggested its intention is not to completely replace H.265. Instead, Google says it hopes to create a royalty-free alternative that would ease bandwidth issues associated with 4K video content on its popular streaming site YouTube.
Whether Google really intends VP9 as a complement or replacement for HEVC remains to be seen. Even if that is the company’s intention, there is no guarantee that the market will as well. The answers to these and other questions will begin to emerge at CES.