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AV1 2019: A Year In Review

Table of Contents

Introduction

It’s not often you see so many logos of tech giants on one page backing the same technology. In my experience, every enterprise has developed a case of NIH and come up with their standards. No surprise then that there’s an XKCD describing this phenomenon!

XKCD on Standards

But when the AV1 1.0.0 spec was finalized in 2018, with the backing of so many giants, the world knew AV1 would be a serious piece of tech. With the spec finalized, the race was on to get AV1 integrated into your favorite software & hardware for encoding, decoding, and viewing media. By the end of 2018, AV1 adoption was moving at a healthy pace and completed significant milestones necessary to mainstream adoption. Some of these were:

  1. Browser support (Firefox, Chrome, Vivaldi)
  2. Streaming support (see AV1 launch playlist on YouTube)
  3. Encoder support in FFmpeg 
  4. Open-source encoder (rav1e)
  5. Open-source decoder (dav1d)
  6. Video player support (VLC)
  7. MediaInfo support for viewing AV1
  8. Passionate early adopter community (see https://www.reddit.com/r/AV1/)

In 2019, the main goals for AV1 were to get usable encoding times, SoC support for hardware decoding, and continued adoption. Here are the major highlights of 2019 for AV1.

Encoders

  1. Intel SVT-AV1 Encoder - Intel surprised everyone by getting into the AV1 encoder game with the open-source SVT-AV1 project. The goal of the project was to build an encoder targeting performance levels applicable to both VOD and live encoding/transcoding video applications. SVT-AV1 has been under active development in 2019 and probably has the best speed/quality tradeoff at the moment. In what might be the most significant vote of confidence for this encoder, Netflix announced a collaboration with Intel and plans to experiment and adopt SVT-AV1 as their AV1 encoder of choice. Read more the announcement below as well as my updates on SVT-AV1 development throughout the year.

  2. rav1e encoder - rav1e is another open-source encoder in the AV1 ecosystem. rav1e’s goals are to be the fastest and safest encoder. 2019 was a big year for rav1e as it saw major development and many releases. Like SVT-AV1 / Netflix partnership, rav1e announced it’s own partnership with the popular video streaming site, Vimeo. Read more about how the year went for rav1e below.

  3. Visionular Aurora EncoderI first blogged about Visionular’s Aurora encoder in my May 2019 update. At that time, I was skeptical about the claims. Still, later in the year, Dr. Zoe Liu (Visionular’s Co-Founder & President), presented more info about the encoder at industry conferences and shed more light on the testing results and features. Aurora AV1 claims to beat libaom encoder 2-pass cpu-0 by ~33% and x265 2-pass placebo by ~42% on the VMAF model while being 14.6x and 4.4x times faster respectively! Exciting claims, but as this is a closed source encoder, it’s not available to test. In 2020, hopefully, we’ll hear more about the progress and implementation of this encoder. Read more about my updates below.

  4. Cisco, EVE, Millicast, NGCodec encoders - The AV1 encoder ecosystem had a few other encoders added to the roster. Still, we didn’t hear much about these encoders outside of the Big Apple Video 2019 conference. Hopefully, 2020 will shed some more light on these. More details below.

Decoders

  1. Dav1d - dav1d is an AV1 cross-platform decoder, open-source, and focused on speed. In 2019, the dav1d team focused on writing assembly code across a wide spectrum of CPUs with SSE2, SSE3, ARMv7, ARMv8, AVX-2 capabilities, which led to impressive performance gains. With such broad coverage of CPUs and performance improvements, it was no surprise to see browsers switch to dav1d as their AV1 decoder of choice instead of aomdec. If I had to summarize 2019 for dav1d in one word, it would be \“Speed!\” Read more below. 

  2. Google’s LIBGAV1 - Google surprised everyone in the AV1 community by announcing gav1, Google’s AV1 decoder. gav1 is the decoder Google included in Android 10 to enabled AV1 decoding. It is surprising Google built its decoder despite the fantastic performance of dav1d on mobile devices. But competition is always good for consumers! We have competition in the AV1 encoding space and now in the AV1 decoding space as well! It’ll be interesting to see how things progress.

  3. Hardware Decoders - Getting a healthy ecosystem of hardware devices that can decode AV1 video is an essential step in the mainstream adoption of AV1. H.264, VP9, and even H.265 are universally supported in the most popular consumer devices such as smartphones, Roku and Fire TV sticks, etc. If AV1 is to dethrone H.264 and VP9 on streaming services such as YouTube and Netflix, then the SOCs in these consumer devices will need to support hardware decoding. In 2019, there were many announcements of upcoming products that will launch in 2020. For me, the most significant news was MediaTek beating Qualcomm to AV1 decoding in a smartphone SOC with Dimensity 1000. It looks like we won’t see a 2020 Android flagship smartphone with a Snapdragon chip that supports hardware AV1 decode. Here are some of the other notable news in 2019:

OS Adoption

  1. Windows 10 support for AVIF - By the time 2019 rolled around, AV1 decoding was already possible on Windows through the use of AV1 Video Extension in the Window Store. With the Windows 10 May 2019 update, Windows also gained support for AVIF image format.
  2. Android Q/10 gets AV1 support - Google also announced support for native AV1 decoding in Android 10. With this announcement, Apple is the only OS manufacturer missing from the AV1 support party. Hopefully, 2020 will be the year Safari users can watch videos in something other than H.264 on YouTube!

Streaming adoption

The compression benefit offered by AV1 makes it a perfect platform for the streaming services to adopt. With the shift to cord-cutting, video traffic is expected to be the majority of internet traffic. Therefore, streaming services are looking to save every bit they can while delivering video so that they can reach areas with spotty or low-speed internet connections. In 2019, we saw YouTube, Facebook, Netflix, and Vimeo experimenting with AV1 video, which means AV1 is well on its way to becoming the dominant streaming platform. Here are talks on how YouTube, Facebook & Netflix are currently encoding and serving AV1.

Partnerships

2019 was a year in which companies in the AOMedia consortium needed to get serious about their AV1 adoption plans and boy they did! We saw the emergence of alliances that will bring about serious competition in this space. Here’s who got together:

Conference Talks & Presentations

AV1 was on the roster for most of the video focused conference with a talk or two. Here are some of the best talks I found that will give you more insight into the goings-on in the ecosystem.

Predictions for 2020

  1. AV1 decoding will start showing up in more devices
    • Sneak Peek: As I’m writing this after CES 2020, it is confirmed that 2020 TVs from Samsung and LG will support hardware decode of AV1 videos.
  2. We might see a new Fire TV or Roku product with support for AV1 decoding
  3. Netflix might start testing AV1 decoding on Desktop and supported consumer devices

Let’s hope for an exciting 2020!  

AV1 Ecosystem updates

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