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Google Losing Next-Gen Codec Wars

Posted by: , 21:59 AEST, Sat September 20, 2014

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Google's VP9 codec fails to make dent against the unstoppable juggernaut that is HEVC
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Image/Photo Credit: Apple

A new format war has been quietly brewing for some time now, and appears to have been just as quietly won, with Google once again on the losing side.

The battle to become the web's most dominant video codec was a long fought, and mostly tedious battle between the industry darling H.264, and the open-source underdog WebM, based on Google owned On2's VP8 codec. The victory eventually went to the industry standard H.264, which is the preferred video codec by companies such as Apple, and by video formats such as Blu-ray. Even Mozilla's die hard support for an open-source alternative to H.264 was eventually in vain, as the maker of the popular Firefox browser eventually bowed to market pressure and adopted native support for H.264.

With 4K on the horizon however, the next-iteration of the codec format wars continued from where the last generation left off, pitting again Google's VPx codec with the "official" successor to H.264, the unimaginatively named H.265 (or more creatively known as HEVC).

However, this next-gen codec war appears to be over before it even starts, with overwhelming industry support for H.265/HEVC before the mainstreaming of applications that need the more efficient codec. Google's VP8 successor, VP9, has been left in the dust as companies from Netflix to the Blu-ray 4K format have all come out to embrace HEVC.

And perhaps the biggest victory for HEVC came this week when Apple's new iPhone 6 came with support for HEVC, using the high efficiency codec for its FaceTime app.

Google's difficult path in promoting WebM and its VPx codec lies in the company's lack of influence when it comes to consumer electronics, despite the popularity of Android, and of course its wide reach in the online world. So while VP9 has found a home on Google owned YouTube, and has widespread browser support from Google's Chrome and Firefox, very few consumer electronic manufacturers have openly adopted VPx in favor of HEVC (with most choosing to support both, or HEVC only).

The second, and perhaps killer blow, is the poorer performance of its VPx codec compared to HEVC, which some tests have shown it to be half as efficient

Google's next codec, VP10, is expected to be released in 2015 and could offer sterner competition to HEVC, but it might be too little too late, given the fast moving nature of the CE industry.


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