The recently released AV1 video codec works better than expected, according to Facebook engineers, after putting the new technology through a benchmark test that tried to mimic Facebook's real-life production environment as close as possible.
The new AV1 video compression technology (codec) launched on March 28 and is the creation of the Alliance for Open Media, an organization consisting of numerous technology firms.
Work on the AV1 (AOMedia Video 1) codec started in 2015, when Google, Cisco, and Mozilla+Xiph.org pooled together three codecs —VPX, Thor, and Daala— into a new project that aimed to create a royalty-free codec that they planned to make freely available to anyone on the video market.
This project culminated two weeks ago when the Alliance for Open Media announced the public availability of the AV1 video codec, a video compression technology they claimed was able to reduce video file size on average with 30% compared to existing competing codecs, based on independent tests.
But this wouldn't be the first press release with puffed up benchmark results.
This is where Facebook's engineering team decided to conduct their own test in conditions that resembled a real-life production environment and not a pristine laboratory setting.
"Our testing shows AV1 surpasses its stated goal of 30% better compression than VP9, and achieves gains of 50.3%, 46.2%, and 34.0%, compared to X.264 main profile, X.264 high profile, and [VP9], respectively," engineers said.
"Our tests were conducted primarily with Standard Definition (SD) and High Definition (HD) video files, because those are currently the most popular video formats on Facebook," engineers said. "But because AV1's performance increased as video resolution increased, we conclude the new compression codec will likely deliver even higher efficiency gains with UHD/4K and 8K content."
The only downside was that AV1 compression times took longer than existing codecs, but this was expected.
With such independent tests confirming the success of the AV1 development process, the technology is slated to replace all existing video compression tools in the upcoming future. Its success is also amost guaranteed by its royalty-free licensing model.
Tech giants like Google, Twitch, Amazon, Microsoft, Hulu, and others have already shown interest in supporting the new AV1 codec for their respective video streaming products. Browser makers, software creators, and silicon companies have also announced interest in integrating AV1 support.
The Alliance for Open Media hopes that by mid-2019, AV1 should be supported by most browsers and streaming platforms and that by 2020, most devices should come with AV1 support on the hardware side.
But while AV1 is a technological success, the real win is on the licensing side. Companies involved in the video streaming landscape have been hounded by patent holders for years and have been forced to pay astronomical fees for video compression technology.
AV1 should cut down costs and lower the bar for new companies to enter the video streaming market. This doesn't necessarily mean creating video streaming portals like YouTube or Twitch, but even the simple things of adding live video broadcasting to small-time instant messaging applications, which now should be cheaper and on-par, performance-wise, with bigger apps.