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Cisco Creates New Video Codec as Alternative to 'Expensive' HEVC

Posted by: , 16:42 AEST, Wed August 12, 2015

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Cisco inserts itself into the next-gen codec wars by creating its own video codec, Thor
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Image/Photo Credit: prayitnophotography@ Flickr, CC

Networking giant Cisco has announced plans to create a new open source, royalty free video codec to compete with HEVC, the industry accepted de facto choice for the next generation of video applications.

HEVC, or H.265, is already being used by Netflix to deliver 4K content, and will be supported by the next generation Ultra HD Blu-ray disc format (to be available to buyers before Christmas). But the proprietary nature of the codec, and the fact that licensing has become increasingly complex for the codec, meant that an royalty free alternative is desperately needed got applications and software that cannot work with HEVC's licensing model.

This exact situation was already an issue with HEVC's predecessor, H.264. The problem is now even worse, according to Cisco, since there are now two distinct patent licensing pools for HEVC, with many license holders not represented in either. What this means that licensing cost for HEVC could be up to sixteen times more expensive than H.264, per unit. To make matters worse, there is no upper limit on yearly costs, meaning that many applications are being priced out of being able to use HEVC.

This is why Cisco has decided to create their own open source, royalty free codec, called Thor. Cisco hopes Thor will find a place within other open source and freely distributed software applications, or within freemium products like Cisco's own WebEx or Cisco Spark, all products precluded from using HEVC based on the codec's current licensing terms.

Cisco says that the work has been going on for some time, but the company felt that now was a good time to reveal to the world its existence. 

"The effort is being staffed by some of the world’s most foremost codec experts, including the legendary Gisle Bjøntegaard and Arild Fuldseth, both of whom have been heavy contributors to prior video codecs. We also hired patent lawyers and consultants familiar with this technology area. We created a new codec development process which would allow us to work through the long list of patents in this space, and continually evolve our codec to work around or avoid those patents," a post on Cisco's official blog read.

To better standardise the codec, Cisco is working with the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) via its NetVC workgroup. The NetVC workgroup, of which Mozilla is also a contributor with their own Daala codec, will work to extract the best elements from inputs from groups like Mozilla and Cisco, with the end goal being to unify these developments into a single codec.


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