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A Brief Introduction to AV1 Codec

Here is the champion, named "HEVC", who has dominated the codec tournament for more than 5 years. His coach, the grandmaster "MPEG LA" stand behind the stage, pride and confidence, expecting for the next knock out. And here comes a new challenger, the "AV1, Rocky Balboa" for the next generation of Video Codec standard, step to the stage, with the cheer and triumph from his supporters, those "Tech-giants". The video codec battle is about to begin. In the post, you are informed of everything regarding to AV1 codec.

Part 1: What Is AV1 Codec

AV1 is the newest video codec launched by the Alliance for the Open Media (AOM). It was first released on March 28, 2018 along with a software-based encoder-decoder as the reference. The initial validated version (1.0.0) was shot out on June 25, 2018, and their pace of updating & evolving to the codec is quick as lightning. Several codec versions were released and some notorious issues for early access versions have been significantly improved. For the year 2021, with only 3 years of R&D, the AV1 has become a quite usable codec with many exciting new features. Many consider the AV1 codec will dominate the video and streaming market in all probability.

AV1 codec

Why and how this new codec does progressed so agile? They are not something out of nothing. The AOM (Alliance for Open Media) was the man behind the curtain. Established in September 2015, AOM was founded by the leading browser service companies: Google, Mozilla, Apple and Microsoft, along with hardware vendors like AMD, ARM Intel and NVIDIA. Also, Amazon & Netflix joint the birth of this new codec. With all big names on board, AV1 adapted Google's previous VP9 technology and got the utmost support from all AOM alliance members, make AV1 evolving within an uncatchable speed and very promising to become the new standard for a world of content.

Video Intro: What's AV1 Codec & How to Decode and Encode AV1 Video Files

Part 2: What're the Main Advantages of AV1 Codec

1. Royalty-free and open source. The most eye-catching spot for AV1 is its open and royalty-free strategy. It has become a controversial topic and unraveled the ambition that AOM wants to encroach the market share of HEVC codec, which released in 2013 by the MPEG-LA organization. Why the AOM need to take such an aggressive action against the HEVC from MPEG-LA? There are both technical and market concerns.

The MPEG-LA has dominated video codec standard for decades. A capable competitor did not appear until 2010 when Google VP8 joined the game. Established in the year 1988, the MPEG LA has accumulated a tremendous amount of video codec patent with a gigantic patent pool. As one thing to remind, their patent fee is just about insane.

MPEG-LA and Core Patent

At this time, American leading tech companies are united to seek a new codec standard to bypass the existing MPEG codec patents, from an economic view, that will cut off a great amount of cost for online video/streaming contents providers like Google and Netflix. In conclusion, "Royalty-free" is their most distinct competitive advantage when compared to HEVC. Their "patent free" slogan has also attracted periphery companies to release their AV1 applications & add-ons, for example the Radiant media, MPV player, so on and so forth.

Codec

Licensor

Codec Royalties

Royalty Exemptions

Royalty Annual Cap

Content Distributoin Fee

HEVC

MPEG LA

US$0.20 per unit

First 100K units each year

US$25 million

US$0

HEVC

HEVC Advance

Region 1:
• US$0.40 (mobile)
• US$1.20 (4K TV)
• US$0.20-0.80
Region 2:
• US$0.20 (mobile)
• US$0.60 (4K TV)
• US$0.20-0.40

• US$25,000 eaech year
• Most software HEVC implementations distributed to consumer devices after first sale.

US$40 million

Physical distribution:
• $0.225 per disc/title (region 1)
• $0.01125 per disc/title (region 2)
US$0.20-0.80
Non-Physical distribution:
• US$0

HEVC

Technicolor

Tailor-made agreements

Tailor-made agreements

Tailor-made agreements

US$0

AV1

Alliance for Open Media

US$0

N/A

N/A

US$0

2. Optimized for the Internet. On the other hand, as a long-run, fully developed codec structure, HEVC codec can hardly adapt its self to modern internet transmission tasks. HEVC is not specifically optimized for internet video transmitting & data storage purpose and end up a result that hardly do improvement on it due to its original purpose (video codec for the broadcast market and streaming irrelevant). With the fact that streaming services are overtaking the previous broadcast business, service providers are eagerly seeking for a compact video format with comparatively decent graphic quality to pose the bandwidth solutions.

It is scalable to any modern device at any bandwidth and is designed with a low computational footprint and optimized for the internet and hardware. AV1 is capable of consistent, highest-quality, real-time video delivery, and is flexible for both commercial and non-commercial content, including user-generated content.

AV1 advantages

Part 3: AV1 vs HEVC: Is AV1 Better than HEVC/H.265?

The technical advantage that AV1 has, with its Achilles's heel in some domain, has become the topic discussed for a long term. Various debates are surrounding the argument that if the AV1 is a codec that capable for the future, with my answer is positive. Let it be clear: objectively if we need to measure the performance of a codec, we need to check in both two dimensions:

• Bitrate compression capability: with the same graphic quality setting, how compact the digitized video file could be achieved. In another term, a video file is at the highest compress rate, how good the graphic quality could be presented.

• Encoding and decoding: The encoding capability will present on the time taken to encode the raw clip to computer playable video format, it is not acceptable for content creators if it takes forever to encode their video. The decoding capability will significantly affect the user experience, the video play will sluggish/choppy if the decoder is incapable of a fast decoding on end-up devices.

Video codec comparison: AV1 vs HEVC/H.265, VVC vs AV1

1. AV1 vs HEVC: Quality and Bitrate Measurement

Put it to the practice. The standard for comparing different video codecs, we got to follow certain measurements & metrics. VMAF quality with the Moscow University Video Quality Measurement Tool is one of the greatest criterion which we can do to reference.

The encoding test will be based on four samples that will encode within 4 different codecs through FFmpeg. The encoding scripts will be kept as vanilla as it could be (N-93083-g8522d219ce) with minor adjustment to fit the insignificant, differentiated codec requirement to keep the comparison impartial and reasonable:

AV1 data rate

The vertical axis shows the VMAF scores which representing the graphic quality, a higher score simply means better quality of video (in almost all aspects). The horizontal axis represents the bitrate, again to put that in simple, smaller number means smaller video size & higher compression rate. Reasonably less compact if the coordinate is addressed on the right-hand side.

As a result, AV1 was the champion, H264 the laggard, and x265 and VP9 neck and neck in the middle. A noticeable evidence is AV1 got a very high VMAF grade even it's in an extremely low bitrate, which indicated that AV1 is super effective at a cut off the bandwidth of the video and keep the graphic quality retain a higher baseline.

Research shows AV1 is more concrete than other codecs for approximately 30%

Not only the VMAF prove that AV1 is the winner quality-wise among its competitors. The PSNR (Peak Signal-to-Noise Ratio, see below) tests also regard AV1 codec as the leader of all codecs. Typically, AV1 codec is 30% better than HEVC in terms of the compression efficiency. It saves up to 30% in bandwidth for the same image quality in HEVC.

AV1 PSNR

Compression performance: AV1 > X265 > VP9 > X264

2. AV1 vs HEVC: The Achilles's Heel - Encoding/Decoding Difficulty

The encoding/ decoding ability for video codec is a significant factor which end up with the user experience. Imagine a Youtube vlogger need a day or even longer time to encode his/her video before uploading, the time efficiency is literary intolerable. Unfortunately, AV1 is not performing ideally at encoding speed.

1. Encoding Speed

We set the initial FFmpeg string (max rate 3000~ 6000K, CPU used 8 cores and 2 passes) both for AV1, HEVC (H.265) and VP9 plus H.264. With a 95.55 VMAP score conformant, the time consumption of AV1 encoding isn't taking the lead.

Encoding Time (seconds)

Times Real Time

AV1

736

147

x265

289

58

LibVPx

226

45

x264

18

4

What can we conclude from the table: Data depicts that the AV1 is about 3x the encoding times of x265 and VP9, and the graphic quality was compromised to 95.55 from 96.18. Even though the sharpest-eyed viewer wouldn't notice this .63 differential, but if we do compare it pin to pin, then the results are embarrassing.

2. Decoding Speed

A 6Mbps Elekstra file is converted to Y4M format with FFmpeg script in order to test the decoding speed. From the image, you can see AV1 decoded at .66x real time, with H.264 at 14x, VP9 at 10.5x, and HEVC at 8x real time.

On the other hand, when FFplay is used to play all four files. AV1 won't play at all, which is probably not surprising since it is still in experimental status, while H.264, HEVC and VP9 all played in real time with minimal use of CPU.

AV1 decoding speed

What takes AV1 codec to such a consequence? As one of the initial purposes when designing AV1 at the beginning stage, hardware compatibility was in their major concerns. The ultimate solution for compatibility issues will be a "virtual machine" stuff like Java, which idea doesn't fit the computer video industry. So the designers of AV1 codec deducted the hardware dependence, meanwhile, the hardware acceleration is disabled. Their goal is to make AV1 codec video able to run on various devices as possible. But the encoding performance is sacrificed as a result.

But there is hope. AV1 codec was released in 2018 and still evaluated as an underdevelopment project with pretty much capable for business use. Hundreds and thousands of most topped engineers & developers from AOM are working together with this project. Consider Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and Apple joined this race, with their talented, experienced developers trying their best to ingratiate the market needs, it's highly promising that the problem will be relieved in near future.

Since we have witnessed the improvement of the usability of AV1 codec. AV1, as a codec which still on its early stage of life span, it has a lot more space to be optimized & developed compare to other inadequate codecs. From a long term prediction, AV1 has great potential to overturn the video codec industry.

Part 4: What Makes AV1 Different - Innovative Coding Algorithm

Considered a high- tech concentrated project the AV1 is, with practically all major tech leaders announcing their technical implementation of amazing new features that make AV1 stand out from the rest video codecs. A closer look at four of its new features will lead us to the observatory of the codec future.

1. Film Grain Synthesis

We've had the experience when film grain appears on over enlarged pictures, but it could also be a form of artist expressiveness. In the previous encoding scenario, the codec could hard to distinguish it from the constant noise and creates a great amount of traffic in the bitstream. High bitrate video compensated for transmitting very little information. Since human brains tend to filter the visual noise and accept them as a bit "emotional" sensation, to find a way to not transfer the noise with the bitstream but re-apply it in the later procedure, could be a desirable solution.

AV1 film grain synthesis

2. Constrained Directional Enhancement Filter

As the essential process of all video codecs, the effectiveness of filtering will dramatically influence the quality of encoded video. Each picture will be divided into small units during the encoding process by the lines and blocks. The directional filter is the advanced algorithm, supported by previous filters, CLPF and CDEF, to recognize the edges of each frame with analyzing their direction, low-pass filters along the edges and outlines will be applied and the graphic quality improves since smoother lines and visual effects are adapted.

AV1 constrained directional enhancement filter

3. Frame Super Resolution

It is a common practice among video streaming services to adaptively switch the frame resolution based on the current bandwidth. For example, when the available bandwidth is low, a service may send lower resolution frames and then upscale them to the display device resolution. However, such a scaling occurs outside of the video codec as of now. The motivation behind the new Frame Super-resolution framework in AV1 is to make this scaling process more effective by making it a part of the codec itself. The new coding technic allows the lower spatial resolution frames to be coded at first and then super-resolved normatively recursively to adapt to full resolution before rendering the buffers. Later, these super-resolved reference buffers can be used to predict subsequent frames, even if they are at a different resolution.

AV1 frame super resolution

4. Non-binary Arithmetic Coding

AV1 moves to using a symbol-to-symbol adaptive multi-symbol arithmetic coders (up to 8 possible values) instead of traditional HEVC coding (which have only two). The precision is much higher than a binary arithmetic encoder and enhances the tracking capabilities of less common elements of a visual element accurately. Through it's a complex process to coding to merge different values to one, it boosts code performance since multiple bits could process in the same clock cycles sequentially.

AV1 non-binary arithmetic coding

Part 5: Can You Watch AV1 Video Now?

As a newly rolling out codec standard, the AV1 is now expanding its business territory. Its bright business outlook depends on the promotion from AOM members immensely. For instance, AV1 Video Extension beta is added on Microsoft Edge for Windows 10 October 2018 Update (1809), Which indicated the full enhancement from Microsoft on Windows, the world's most popular platform with a tremendous market share for PC, manifests the complete victory in the future of AV1 codec.

Google, Microsoft, and Mozilla also successively announced their browser support to AV1 codec. Although the technical framework is still under development, but its outstanding coding performance and royalty-free will be the solid base of the success of AV1 market expansion. Also, the Chrome on desktop adds AV1 encoder to improve video conferencing with WebRTC.

AV1 advantages
Source: muvi.com

Commercially the AV1 has got the adoption of many crucial online content providers, including YouTube, Vimeo, Netflix and twitch. And it will drastically change the landscape of the online video market with no doubt.

YouTube adds AV1 support

As the leading force of AOM and the main promoter, Google with its YouTube has activelyrolling out AV1 codec video. Begin with their AV1 Beta Launch Playlist with 14 playable videos in 2018, Google claim that there will be 10 to 20 percent out of all Youtube videos will use the AV1 codec by the end of 2021. This ambitious goal also tells us the future widely adaption of AV1 video codec because of Youtube's dominating position in the video-sharing industry. Click to read more about YouTube AV1 video download errors and solution >>

Within Mozilla's Rav1e encoder, Vimeo's "Staff picks" channel has added AV1 codec videos. As the major contributor of this encoder technically, Vimeo has a remote plan to implement all uploaded videos with AV1 codec videos.

On Feb 6, 2020, Netflix announced its support of AV1 on android devices and begin to Stream AV1 on Android.

Netflix adds av1 support

And this official announcement also declared that their final goal is to roll out AV1 on all of our platforms. Since Netflix is now the greatest streaming service provider in the United States, which occupied more than 50% of family streaming service subscribers, that could be the decisive move for AOM to promote AV1 codec.

Twitch also plans to roll out AV1 for its header content in 2020, they are ought to solve their "tail content" issue with AV1 codec later but will still in quick.

Twitch adds av1 support

Additionally, followed by positive test results, Facebook officially presented their favor of AV1 technologies. And the future follow up will be on the schedule. It's a strong signal that AV1 could be popularized among SNS platforms.

Part 6: How Do You Play AV1 Files?

Hence almost all decisive companies prospected their future with AV1 and we can see the growing implementation of AV1 codec video on various platforms & occasions, have we set to enjoy the changes and exciting content that AV1 brought to us? How do you play AV1 file successfully?

Both hardware and software support are required for AV1 content playback. Mostly, it relies on what device and operation system you are working with.

In terms of hardware, NVIDIA has released the specification of their newest NVIDIA RTX 3000 series GPU on september 1st, excitingly announcing their new 3000 series adapt the full AV1 hardware encoder/decoder for better AV1 video watching/streaming experience. GeForce RTX 30 SeriesĀ are the first discrete GPUs with AV1 decoders (as part of our new 5th generation NVIDIA Decoder), enabling users to take advantage of AV1 on desktops and in media centers. Click to learn more AV1 hardware support >>

The AV1 hardware support

In terms of software, Android 10 onwards, chrome 70 onward, linux can decode AV1 video. While at the time of writing, macOS and iOS seem to have no play for AV1 support. Can you play AV1 on any of your Apple device or other gadget?

Yes. There are two ways to play AV1 video.

For the first, any device with an AV1 decoder built-in will be able to play AV1 video. For example, you can play AV1 video on Windows 10 as long as you download and install AV1 codec extension beforehand. Not only the AOM alliance promoters have acclaimed their support to the future AV1 application, other service providers, open-source project & commercial software solution are released their support of AV1 codec videos. For example, we're happy to see 5KPlayer, VLC, CNX players, KMPlayer, and more announce the support of AV1 codec. With these media player in hand, you can play AV1 file without even downloading AV1 decoder.

For the second, AV1 has one major flaw. As we mentioned above, the encoding and decoding speed is the bottleneck that restrict the performance and user experience for video lovers. It is a heavier codec that asks for high-end hardware to decode it. Or else, playing AV1 file will end up with errors. One feasible way to fix the issue is to convert AV1 to MP4 (H.264/HEVC) that is more compatible with your device. To do the task, WinX Video Converter would be a decent choice.

As the leading software provider, WinXDVD announces the timely support of AV1 codec decoding and downloading. That means you can save the online AV1 video from your browser and even convert AV1 video to popular HEVC, H.264, MP4, MOV, MKV, and more for robust playback.

Part 7: Some FAQ about AV1 Codec

1. What is AV1 codec?

AV1 is the newest video codec launched by the Alliance for the Open Media (AOM). With 2 years of rapid development it has become one of the most concerned video codec and implemented in many websites as the codec for online video streaming.

2. Does YouTube use AV1 codec?

Yes, Youtube does. According to Google official, approximately 20% percent of Youtube video contents will roll out with AV1 codec for better quality and smaller file size. It's a sweet spot for me in the quality/speed trade-off.

3. How do we enable AV1 codec in Youtube setting?

You may change the setting on the Account Playback page from Auto to either "Prefer AV1 for SD" or "Always prefer AV1".

YouTube av1

3. Is there a way to download AV1 codec video from video sites?

Generally speaking, there isn't an official proved measure to download the video files on those video sharing platforms, for example, YouTube, Vimeo. Also there will be technical issues when we try to download AV1 codec videos since AV1 codec not yet widely supported by video software solutions. But you can do it with the help of certain third party software, like WinX Video Converter.

As stated, AV1 codec isn't yet mature & in lack of hardware support. Digiarty has long-term dedicate to multimedia softwares and the WinX Video Converter is now supporting convert AV1 codec video. At the moment that less video software support AV1 related converting/ modifying, WinX Video Converter Deluxe is one no doubt a good choice.

Free Download WinX Video Converter to Grab AV1 Video Flawlessly

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

author - Kaley Torres

Kaley Torres twitter icon

Kaley Torres is a self-motivated, creative editor with eight years of marketing and SEO experience, specializing in writing on DVD, video, audio, images, new digital contents etc. With a partiality DVD collection, Kaley also enjoys digitizing DVD and is keen to share her DVD video conversion solutions as well as video sharing tips on social media.

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