How New Tech Could Impact Streaming Speeds

Smaller. Faster. Better.

Key Takeaways

  • AV1 will offer creators an open-source codec that doesn’t have any royalty fees or costly licenses to purchase.
  • AV1 has twice the compression efficiency as AVC/h.264, the current primary codec that online videos services use.
  • AV1 uses less bandwidth than h.264, and is more accessible to publishers and content creators thanks to its open-source origins.
the Netflix logo displayed on a smartphone that's sitting on a laptop with a cup of coffee nearby.
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Synaptics recently announced a new group of high-performance chips for smart video devices that will offer "next-generation" AV1 video decoding, which it claims will be a requirement to watch content on sites like Netflix and YouTube in the future.

Many of us use Netflix and YouTube as replacements for the cable television packages we once had connected to our television sets. With online content becoming a commodity, that means we need to find ways to improve how we access that content. One of the biggest improvements for this could come with the AV1 codec.

"Next-generation codecs like AV1, which provide a 60% average reduction in bandwidth over h.264, are critical to future video distribution sustainability," Steven Tripsas, head of solution architecture at Zype, told us via email.

The Fundamentals of Codecs

One of the biggest problems with online video sharing right now comes in the form of the codec that it uses to stream content to users. 

A codec is made up of two main parts—the encoder and the decoder. The encoder takes the source data from the video and compresses it, making it smaller and, therefore, easier to share across the internet. The better the encoder can compress a file, the faster that file will be able to be streamed across the web. 

The other part of the codec, the decoder, is responsible for decompressing the file and making it viewable again. The two pieces of the codec work in tandem, and both are required to pull off the process.

"Next-generation codecs like AV1...are critical to future video distribution sustainability."

For years now, a codec called AVC/h.264 has been at the forefront of online video streaming, with higher-quality videos utilizing another codec called HEVC (High Efficiency Video Coding), or h.265. 

While AVC/h.264 has worked perfectly fine for video over the past several years, Mozilla says the use of the codec has resulted in sites, content creators, and even browser companies being forced to pay tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars in royalty fees.

With HEVC, we could see those costs doubling or even tripling, especially as the MPEG offers various patents and licenses, depending on how the codec is being used.

A Freer Future for Video Streaming

With AV1, the need to worry about royalty fees and the like is completely removed from the equation. Instead of requiring special licenses that contain fine print, AV1 is a piece of open source technology, which means it is freely available to the public.

This makes AV1 a much stronger contender for web-based video, since browser companies, application developers, and even content creators won’t need to worry about expensive licenses or royalty fees that could change at any time. 

A hand holding a remote in front of multimedia wall showing dozens of streaming channels.
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The codec, itself, is being developed by a group called AOM, or AOMedia, which is made up of tech leaders like Amazon, Netflix, Mozilla, Google, Cisco, and more. AV1 already is available on some sites and apps, including YouTube, though it probably will be a bit longer before we see widespread use of the codec. 

"AV1 is still in its early development, and even though it is being used by streaming services like Netflix and Google, [it] won’t be available on every device for a while." Eric Florence of SecurityTech told Lifewire via email. He also noted that companies like Google already are pushing for AV1 to be a mandatory codec in newer Android TV devices, to ensure more widespread adoption.

Ultimately, the advances AV1 brings and the lack of any royalty fees and licenses mean that online video streaming will not only be more affordable for big companies, but also will be more affordable for content creators and users alike.

There’s a slim possibility that users could find themselves needing to upgrade their streaming hardware, but experts say that isn’t something we have to worry about right this moment.

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