Google to demo 4K YouTube streaming at CES via its new royalty-free VP9 codec

By , Jan 3, 2014

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Google’s hasn’t enjoyed much success with VP8, a video codec it developed back in 2010 as a H.264 replacement for efficient video streaming. The Chrome browser supports VP8 codec out-of-the-box (so no plug-in required), but Google’s plans for VP8 domination were shattered by literally non-existent support from major industry players.

As a result, VP8 has never gained hardware-acceleration because chip makers opted to stand firmly behind H.264, an industry-standard video codec Apple’s devices support natively and on the silicon level.

At next week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the Internet giant will be showing off YouTube streaming in a 4K resolution of 3,840 pixels by 2,160 lines via its brand new royalty-free video codec, VP9.

This time around, Google has lined up an impressive list of industry players who will back the new format. Notably absent: a certain fruity company…

According to GigaOM, such industry players as ARM, Intel, Broadcom, Marvell, Nvidia, Samsung, Sony, Sharp and Toshiba have pledged to support the new Google codec. All told, nineteen industry heavy-weights will back VP9.

YouTube will demo 4K streaming next week at CES booths of LG, Panasonic and Sony.

It should be interesting seeing this initiative unfold itself given that Google is pitching royalty-free VP9 as an alternative to the emerging H.265 video codec. Both the existing H.264 and the upcoming H.265 require low royalty fees.

YouTube’s Francisco Varela noted that VP9 won’t provoke “war of the video codecs” and hinted YouTube could add support for H.265 in the future, alongside VP9.

Samsung 100 inch Ultra HD TV (CES 2013)

VP9 should help improve YouTube video delivery and reduce buffering, said Varela: “By 2015, you’ll be surprised every time you see that spinning wheel”. He expects VP9 hardware-assisted VP9 decoding to hit desktop and mobile devices first, with first VP9-enabled TV sets expected by 2015.

The existing H.264 codec is the de facto industry standard: most of your cable television, set-top boxes, digital devices and computers support H.264 on the silicon level, allowing for hardware-accelerated playback of H.264-encoded video.

All iTunes video content, for example, is encoded in H.264.

Apple supports H.264 via its QuickTime platform on both Macs and iOS devices. Both iOS and Mavericks feature hardware-accelerated H.264 video compression and decompression via GPU support.

The International telecommunications Union (ITU) a year ago approved H.265, also known as High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC). The successor to H.264, H.265 is meant to support resolutions up to 7,680-by-4,320 pixels, enough for the new Ultra HD 4K and 8K formats.

Amazon Instant Video 2.1 for iOS (iPhone screenshot 001)

H.265 – capable of delivering high-resolution video with half the bit rate of H.264 – is likely an important prerequisite for 4K iTunes movies. You’ll recall that Apple started dipping its toes into 4K waters with the release of the new Mac Pro.

Though there’s no concrete evidence of it, it’s safe to assume that Apple will bump up its 27-inch Thunderbolt Display, the iMac lineup and perhaps the Apple TV streaming-media box to 4K resolution later this year.

Several companies are expected to announce their 4K moves next week.

Netflix has already promised to announce hardware partners for a new 4K streaming and said that “several of the major TV vendors” would be debuting Netflix-compatible 4K sets.

LG hinted at new 55, 65 and 75-inch 4K curved TV sets with OLED screens. Heck, even Polaroid of all companies is jumping on the 4K bandwagon with an affordable $999 50-inch 4K TV set developed in conjunction with Empire Electronics.

And of course, there’s Samsung.

Image top of post via AppleInsider.

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  • Noah Mospan

    I wish 4k monitors were more affordable. Just give it a year or so, its the plasma tv all over again.

    • Hussain

      It always will be like this. Wait 8 years more and 4K TVs will cost as much as HDTVs do now.

      • Mohammad Ridwan

        I seriously hope so…

    • totallymichael

      Dell’s new 4k 28″ monitors will be priced below $1k. I know, I know. That’s not exactly “affordable”, but when you look at how many years 2.5k monitors were stuck at the $1k mark, it’s pretty promising.

  • Jonathan

    Downton Abbey <3

  • Fringe

    If it’s actually good and Google have major backers then Apple will be forced to back it eventually. It doesn’t make sense to shun better codec anyway.

  • The Range

    Do people even notice the difference in quality anymore…I mean when you’re watching your tv and your 10 feet away uhhh….

    • ghulamsameer

      I had your same viewpoint until a few days ago when I saw a 4K display at Best Buy. There is significant difference.

    • ɑղժɾҽա

      There is a significant difference between the qualities. To me, the Samsung 4K TV looks much better than Sony’s.

      • Umut Bilgiç

        I think I love LG’s 4K more than anything atm

      • Anonomous.TECH.man

        Lg SUCKS

  • Bill Do

    VP9 won’t reduce buffering.

    YouTube will be just as slow as before.

    • chris125

      Buffering has more to do with your service provider than simply youtube. I never have buffering issues while on LTE.

  • Seth

    Okay, we have HD, 3D, UHD and Blu-Ray. Next is 8K, 16K, HVD & 4D where we can actually feel what’s happening on the screen. So we can watch fight club and actually feel ourselves being beaten and battered.

    • chris125

      The first rule of fight club is you don’t talk about fight club.. lol

  • ✪ aidan harris ✪

    How much bandwidth do you need to stream 4K video in real time though? I don’t think consumer Internet connections are up to it yet…

    • Rafael Damasceno

      Medium wealth families have easy access to 120Mbps connections in Portugal, and I am pretty sure it is the same throughout Europe. Shouldn’t be that hard to stream 4K with an efficient codec like VP8 or H.265.

      • ✪ aidan harris ✪

        I have 120Mbps download but only about 11Mbps upload. Would that really be enough? I was somehow under the impression that more would be needed…

      • aRandomTom

        I’m in the UK, and my current download speed is 2.5Mbps! Upload is at 0.5Mbps! However, I can switch to fibre optics, but that’ll still only get me to 55Mbps: no match for your 120Mbps! :)

    • Hal Lasell

      4K is 4x the size of 1080p, but the post indicates that H.265 uses 1/2 the bit rate of H.264. That implies that 4K under H.265 will require twice the bandwidth of 1080p under H.264. This seems supportable.

  • GuyBey0ndC00L

    This is great news and all. Maybe Google should concentrate on fixing the YouTube app for iOS. It’s only 720p mostly, no HD Quality over cellular and it’s still struggles to stream correctly on even on Wifi.

    • Laszlo Tuss

      And a few other things you forgot:
      1. Can’t play sound in background
      2. Keyboard overlays the mini video screen
      3. Show volumes in the center of the screen when you set it
      4. Video stop at control center and not resume when i hide it
      5. No TV Out support

      • GuyBey0ndC00L

        I try to keep it short and sweet. Your right Google YouTube App is missing tons of Features

  • Xee

    Why are Google comparing VP9 to H.264? Surely they should compare to H.265.

  • jack

    HEVC is around 40% smaller than AVC… since VP9 is worse than HEVC, you shouldn’t say VP9 is “half the bitrate” of AVC…..

  • s0me

    So basically what you want to say is Google sucks for wanting to create their own codec?

    • Hal Lasell

      There is merit to providing a codec that is royalty-free, provided performance is competitive with H.265.