Versatile Video Coding (VVC) has officially arrived bang on time despite talk of a potential pandemic-related release date push back.
It comes days after the shuttering of the MPEG Group (as we have historically known it) was also officially finalized by founder Leonardo Chiariglione. A large factor in Chiariglione’s departure boiled down to disagreements over HEVC, so VVC – as the successor to HEVC – being waved in so quickly afterwards is symbolic of a new era for video.
The release could also be seen as retaliatory to some of Chiariglione’s recent musings, specifically the opinion that HEVC and VVC will go nowhere if left by themselves, proposing the assistance of EVC as a mezzanine standard between HEVC and VVC. Going further still, adding LCEVC on top of EVC could then compete with VVC in terms of quality, in appropriate conditions, and – if EVC succeeds and patent holders agree to a decent license – VVC can then have its own run at the prize.
These are stark conclusions from the video standards icon that must be kept in mind, without getting carried away with VVC’s promise of 50% reduction in bit rate data requirements relative to HEVC without compromising visual quality. VVC/H.266 is also described as being ideal for streaming 4K or 8K titles on flat screen TVs.
We have heard plenty of noise around HEVC versus VVC in recent months, particularly at the virtual NAB events and specifically a tradeoff between efficiency and complexity. VVC can allow for more efficient prediction of angles in an encoding environment, for example by using pixels from other rows. HEVC, on the other hand, is limited to rectangular shapes and linear motion, but with that comes reduced complexity.
VVC adoption is being promoted by the Media Coding Industry Forum (MC-IF), aiming to avoid the confusion that has arisen from the three different HEVC patent pools. Founded in 2018, the MC-IF is not a patent licensing pool nor a pure standards group. Rather, its nascent plan is to promote adoption of the emerging H.266 codec, which began development in a joint effort between the ITU-T’s Video Coding Expert Group and MPEG.
The MC-IF assures that VVC will be offered on “a uniform and transparent licensing model based on the FRAND principle (fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory)”. But with such giants likes Apple, Ericsson, Intel, Huawei, Microsoft, Qualcomm, and Sony involved in developing VVC, it’s hard to envisage how the MC-IF can avoid a repeat of the bloodbath between HEVC Advance, MPEG-LA, and Velos Media. However, a more pressing matter for the MC-IF will be promoting VVC up against royalty-free codecs like AV1 and the even more efficient AV2 further down the line.
German research institute Fraunhofer notes that HEVC and AVC are responsible for processing 90% of all internet-delivered video bits to over 10 billion active devices worldwide, so the most royalty hungry of companies involved in VVC’s development should be kept occupied for a while.
One notable working group member of the MC-IF is French encoding expert Ateme, which has been involved in promoting adoption of VVC, and recently demonstrated the delivery of broadcast UHD satellite signals using VVC via its Titan Live video processing platform. Ateme encodes the UHD TV source in VVC and captures in MPEG-TS, with streams modulated using DVB-S2, which were then broadcast by SES on an Astra 2E transponder. An OpenVVC decoder, developed by French university IETR, displays the video after the signal is demodulated by a DVB to IP gateway.
Fraunhofer said in a statement, “For instance, the previous standard H.265/HEVC requires circa 10GB of data to transmit a 90-minute UHD video. With this new technology, only 5GB of data is required to achieve the same quality. Because H.266/VVC was developed with ultra-high-resolution video content in mind, the new standard is particularly beneficial when streaming 4K or 8K videos on a flat screen TV.”
HEVC is the de facto codec for compressing 4K HDR content on mainstream video streaming platforms including Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV+, and many more. YouTube is the biggest omission, as it compresses 4K content using Google’s own VP9 codec, but recently enabled AV1 streaming, following in Netflix’s footsteps.
A significant blank in the press release concerns a timeline for when silicon capable of decoding VVC will arrive to market, which was quickly filled by Qualcomm’s own announcement – expecting commercial deployments in 2021. Meanwhile, software-only decoders and encoders are set to be released by Fraunhofer in Q3 or Q4 this year.