Fraunhofer HHI, Europe’s largest research organization recently announced a new video codec, H.266, or Versatile Video Coding (VVC). This represents a huge breakthrough in video compression technology and promises to reduce the size of transmitted video by 50%. This is big news for ISPs since video drives a large percentage of network traffic.
Codec is an acronym for compressor/decompressor. Codec software is used to prepare videos for streaming over the Internet. Codec software compresses video signals at the sender’s end and is used at the viewer’s end to decompress video. The decompressed video file you watch on your TV, computer, or smartphone is much larger than the video file that is transmitted to you over the Internet.
Codec software is used to compress video signals of all types. It’s used by online video vendors like Netflix and YouTube TV. It’s used by networks like ESPN that broadcast live sports. It’s used by online video games. It’s used in online chat apps like Zoom. The codec is used to compress images from video cameras that are transmitted over the web. Any video you receive online has likely been compressed and decompressed by codec software. Fraunhofer claims its codec software is included in over 10 billion devices.
Reducing the size of video files will be a huge deal in the future. Sandvine reported in October of 2019 that video represented over 60% of all downloads on the web. We know the amount of streaming video has exploded during the pandemic, aided by massive cord-cutting. Cisco predicts that video could grow to be 82% of downloaded web traffic by the end of 2022.
The new H.266 codec standard will replace earlier codec software H.264 and H.265. Interestingly, the H.265 codec reduced the size of video files by 50% compared to the predecessor H.264 codec. Fraunhofer says the software is particularly well-suited for transmitting 4K and 8K streaming video for flat-screen TVs and for video with motion like high-resolution 360-degree video panoramics.
The new codec won’t be introduced immediately because it has to be designed and installed into the network gear that transmits video and into all of the devices we use to watch video. Hopefully, the new codec will hit the market sooner than its predecessor H.265. That codec software was announced on a similar press release by Fraunhofer in 2012 and has just recently been implemented across the network.
H.265 got embroiled by a number patent disputes. The new H.266 codec might encounter similar problems since the team working on the codec includes Apple, Ericsson, Intel, Huawei, Microsoft, Qualcomm, and Sony. Fraunhofer is trying to avoid disputes by implementing a uniform and transparent licensing model.
There also might be an eventual competitor for the new codec. The Alliance for Open Media announced a new codec in 2015 call AV1 which is a competitor of the current H.265 codec. This is open-source software and free and is supported by Google, Microsoft, Mozilla, and Cisco. (Note Microsoft is backing both sets of codec software). This group has been working on a forward-looking codec as well.
Even should everything go smoothly it’s unlikely to see the H.266 codec affecting consumer video for 3-4 years. Carriers could deploy the codec on network gear sooner than that.