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What Is AV1 Codec? Where and How Can You Play AV1 Smoothly?

Here is the champion, named "HEVC", who has dominated the codec tournament for years. His coach, the grandmaster "MPEG LA" stand behind the stage, pride and confidence, expecting for the next knock out. Now 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 new AV1 codec.

Part 1. What Is AV1 Codec and Its Background?

AV1[1] is the newest video codec launched by the Alliance for the Open Media (AOM). It was first released on March 28, 2018. The initial validated version (1.0.0) was shot out on June 25, 2018, and their pace of evolving is quick as lightning. Several versions were released and some notorious issues for early versions have been significantly improved. For the year 2022, with only 4 years of R&D, AV1 codec has become quite usable with many exciting features. Many consider AV1 codec will dominate the vided streaming market in all probability.

Why and how does the new codec progress so agile? The AOM[2] was the man behind the curtain. Established in September 2015, AOM was founded by the leading companies: Google, Mozilla, Apple and Microsoft, along with hardware vendors like AMD, ARM Intel and NVIDIA. Also, Amazon & Netflix joint the birth of AV1 codec. With all big names on board, AV1 adapted Google's previous VP9 technology and got the utmost support from Google AOM alliance members, making AV1 promising to become the new standard for a world of content.

AV1 codec

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? 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 fast video delivery, and is flexible for both commercial and non-commercial content, including user-generated content.

AV1 advantages

Part 3. AV1 vs HEVC vs VP9 vs H.264: Is AV1 Better than HEVC/H.265 or VP9?

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, AV1 vs VVC, HEVC vs H.264

1. AV1 vs HEVC vs VP9 vs H.264: 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, compared with HEVC, VP9 and H.264.

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 and 50% of VP9.

AV1 PSNR

Compression performance: AV1 > X265 > VP9 > X264

2. AV1 vs HEVC vs VP9 vs H.264: 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 VP9, HEVC, and H.264, HEVC 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. 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.

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. Where Can You Watch AV1 Video?

Despite AV1 is a newly rolling out compression standard, adoption of the new video codec is skyrocketing. For instance, AV1 Video Extension is added on Microsoft's Windows 10, the world's most popular platform with a tremendous market share for PC, manifesting the complete victory in the future of AV1 codec. So where can you stream AV1 content? Frankly, a majority of browsers bring AV1 playback and numerous content providers are reacting to the demand, too.

1. Web browsers. Google, Microsoft, and Mozilla 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. Firefox v67.0, Opera V57, Microsoft Edge since Windows 10 October 2018 update added the support of AV1 codec. Also, Chrome V70 on desktop added AV1 decoder on October 2018, and AV1 encoder on April 14, 2021 to improve video conferencing with WebRTC. Plus, Vivaldi added AV1 video codec support in the same year.

2. Streaming platforms. Commercially the AV1 has got the adoption of many crucial online content providers, including YouTube, Vimeo, Netflix and twitch.

  • YouTube: As the leading force of AOM, Google with its YouTube[3] has actively rolling out AV1 video. Beginning with AV1 Beta Launch Playlist with 14 playable videos in 2018, Google claimed that there will be 10-20% out of all Youtube video using AV1 video codec by the end of 2021.
  • Vimeo: Within Mozilla's Rav1e encoder, Vimeo's "Staff picks" channel has added AV1 codec videos in June 2019. As the major contributor of this encoder technically, Vimeo has a remote plan to implement all uploaded videos with AV1 codec videos.
  • Netflix: On Feb 6, 2020, Netflix announced the support of AV1 codec on Android. And this announcement also declared their final goal is to roll out AV1 on all of its platforms. Since Netflix is now the greatest streaming service 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: 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. Additionally, followed by positive test results, Facebook officially presented their favor of AV1 technologies in 2018. And the future follow up will be on the schedule. It's a strong signal that AV1 could be popularized among SNS platforms.
  • iQIYI: There is also the first Chinese video streaming platform - iQIYI, who announced support for AV1 codec used on PC browser and Android device in 2020.
AV1 browser support

Note: AV1 will drastically change the landscape of the online video market with no doubt. However, right now, most media players or devices aren't ready for AV1 codec. You have to download external AV1 video extension beforehand or resort to a media player supporting AV1 video. On the other hand, AV1 video is typically contained by WebM, which is not well compatible with some devices. If you run into any problem with WebM video in AV1, you can convert WebM to MP4 first for smooth playing.

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? Mostly, AV1 content playback relies on what hardware, software, and operating system you are working with.

In terms of hardware, Intel launched its Tiger Lake, Rocket Lake and Alder Lake CPUs in 2020 and 2021, providing fixed-function hardware for PC AV1 decode. NVIDIA announced the the first discrete GPUs - NVIDIA GeForce RTX 30 series[4] on Sep 1, 2020, which adapts the full AV1 hardware encoder/decoder for better AV1 video watching/streaming experience. In the same month, AMD added the support for AV1 decoding on RDNA2 GPUs. In July 2022, NVIDIA added support to the FFMPEG to allow for accelerated AV1 decoding for GPU RTX30 graphics through the VDPAU API.

While in March 2022, Intel beats Nvidia and AMD to become the industry first with full AV1 encoding support with its new Arc GPUs[6]. It is tested to have 50X faster than the software only AV1 encoding. Click to learn more AV1 hardware support >>

In terms of software, except the browsers mentioned above, media players such as VLC v3.0[5] onwards, 5KPlayer v6.2 onwards, MPV v0.29.0 onwards, and Potplayer v1.7.14804 onwards can decode AV1 video. In the meanwhile, famous video editors incl. Davinci Resolve since v17.2 and Avidmux since v2.76 also added AV1 video decoding support, too.

In terms of operating system, Microsoft Windows introduced Windows 10 October 2018 Update (1809) with AV1 Video Extension add-on Its default apps like Films & TV can play AV1 video as long as the AV1 extension is installed. In addition, Android 10 onwards Chrome OS 70 onward, and linux can decode AV1 video. While at the time of writing, macOS and iOS seem to have no play for AV1 support.

As stated, AV1 codec isn't yet mature & in lack of hardware support. Playback of AV1 video will be problematic, even though some popular software like VLC or FFMPEG claims to support the codec. Typical errors include "codec AV1 not found", "codec missing", "AV01 not supported", "codec not supported: VLC could not decode the format av01", etc. So how can you play AV1 on any of your Apple device, Windows 11/10 PC, or other gadgets without error? Here are some feasible methods:

Method 1. Download AV1 Video Extension on Windows 10/11

For the first, any device with an AV1 codec built-in will be able to play AV1 video. You can play AV1 video on Windows 10 as long as you download AV1 codec extension beforehand if you've already upgrade to Windows 11 or Windows 10. Just follow the tips of AV1 codec download on windows 10.

  1. Go to Windows > find "Microsoft Store", and click in.
  2. Search "AV1 video Extension".
  3. Click Get and download it. Then you can play AV1 video with the default Movies & TV app or Windows media player.

Method 2. Try a Third-party AV1 Video Player

As is mentioned above, many media player software solutions are released their support of AV1 codec. For example, we're happy to see 5KPlayer, VLC announced the support of AV1 codec. With these media players in hand, you can play AV1 file without even downloading AV1 decoder. Be sure to download the latest version for help, or you may run into no picture error and receive error messages such as codec not supported, cannot decode av01 codec. If the media player still cannot help, please resort to the third solution.

Method 3. Convert AV1 to MP4 H.264 with a Video Converter

Since AV1 is still underdevelopment, there has been many flaws with AV1. As we mentioned above, Apple device and some other gadgets still fail to support AV1 codec. 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. Consiquently, playing AV1 file will end up with errors, even if you install AV1 codec or rely on the AV1 media player. 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, Free Video Converter would be a decent choice.

As the leading software provider, WinXDVD announces the timely support of AV1 codec decoding and downloading with advanced hardware acceleration enabled. 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 swiftly 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".

4. 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.

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

Referrences:

1. AV1 [wiki]: An open, royalty-free video compression standard optimized for video transmission over the internet. As a successor to VP9 by AOMedia, AV1 promises 34% higher data compression than VP9 and is meant to be a royalty-free alternative to HEVC.
2.AOMedia [wiki]: A non-profit industry consortium that unites top tech leaders to develop open, royalty-free technology for media delivery. AV1 video codec is the first project, developed by Amazon, Apple, ARM, Facebook, Google, Huawei, Mozilla, Microsoft, Nvidia, Intel, etc.
3. YouTube rolled out the new AV1 format with a Beta Launch Playlist of the first 14 videos to receive YouTube’s AV1 transcoders.
4. Nvidia introduced Geforce RTX 30 Series GPUs, capable of tackling up to 8K HDR streams with the AV1 hardware decoder.
5. VLC 3.0: A new major update of VLC which activates hardware decoding by default to get 4K and 8K playback, adds the support of 10bits, HDR, AV1, 360 video, 3D audio, and more.
6. Intel Arc: The first GPUs to feature AV1 encoding and deliver 50x faster performance compared with software AV1 encoding.

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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