Most modern devices now include support for hardware-accelerated media decoding, which allows for more efficient compression and better quality video. The next leap in quality will come from the successor to HEVC, known as AV1.
What Is AV1?
AV1 is a codec used for the compression and decompression of video content. The term “codec” is derived from “coder” and “decoder” and describes a piece of software or hardware used to encode or decode data. This is done primarily with compression in mind, making it possible to stream data over limited bandwidth connections such as the internet or HDMI cable.
At the time of writing in January 2022, the standard codec for video content is known as HEVC (High Efficiency Video Coding), or H.265. Before this, we had AVC (Advanced Video Coding), or H.264. The transition from AVC to HEVC saw roughly a two-fold reduction in file size when using the more advanced codec, with a catch.
HEVC depends on hardware acceleration, which is why these videos are often unsupported on older devices released before HEVC became the current standard. The same will be true of AV1, which promises around a 30% improvement in efficiency over HEVC.
AV1 is an open standard, which means it’s royalty-free and doesn’t require a license to use. It was developed by the Alliance for Open Media which is made up of behemoths like Apple, Microsoft, Google, Amazon, NVIDIA, and Tencent.
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Which Services and Devices Support AV1?
Though AV1 was first released in 2018, it’s still relatively new compared to more established formats. For that reason, hardware support is still relatively thin on the ground. This is an issue when it comes to encoding video, since AV1 takes roughly three times as long to encode compared with HEVC.
As the hardware improves, so too will the encoding times and AV1 content will become viable for more content creators. But some services already support AV1 in the delivery of content, including Netflix which launched support for AV1 in November 2021. YouTube uses AV1 to stream 8K content to compatible devices, and some users have noticed an “AV1 Settings” option under their YouTube Settings on some devices.
In terms of devices, Google has mandated that all Android TV models produced after April 2021 that use Android 10 support AV1 at up 60 frames per second in the TV’s native resolution. Other devices like the Roku Ultra (updated in September 2020) and NVIDIA’s 30-series GPUs can also decode AV1 video.
Some smartphones already support AV1 video too, including versions of Samsung’s Galaxy S21 series that use Exynos 2100 systems-on-chip. So far Apple has yet to include AV1 support in its own hardware, including the M1 series of Apple Silicon.
AV1 Will Be Required for 8K Streaming
The move from AVC to HEVC was a slow, drip-feed process that took years. Both formats are still supported where it matters, and the move to AV1 will likely take the same approach.
The fact that not many people have an AV1 decoder on their TV or smartphone is part of the reason that there’s so little 8K content available right now, leaving consumers to rely on upscaling and high-end PC gaming to fill the void.
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