Fraunhofer’s new VVC codec promises to cut the cost of streaming 4K video in half

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The Fraunhofer Heinrich Hertz Institute, the electrical engineering and computer science division of the esteemed German research organization, on Tuesday announced VVC, a new video codec standard that promises to bring around 50 percent efficiency gains in streaming video compression.

The codec’s full name is H.266/Versatile Video Coding, as Fraunhofer says it’s designed to be a successor to the industry-standard H.264/Advanced Video Coding (AVC) and H.265/High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC) formats that combined make up about 90 percent of global digital video transmission and compression on the market today. While HEVC was first released in 2013, the codec has proved controversial due to aggressive patent disputes from its various stakeholders. That’s why AVC, the predecessor to HEVC, still remains the more dominant standard, despite first releasing back in 2003.

But Fraunhofer says VVC could be a path forward for the industry, as almost every major hardware and software company is currently tied up in a messy patent royalty system that dictates how much various stakeholders must pay to use different compression and transmission standards for devices, websites, and apps. With VVC, Fraunhofer says you can get something far better than AVC and HEVC without any of the licensing headaches.

VVC promises to use half the data as HEVC to stream a 90-minute 4K video

“Through a reduction of data requirements, H.266/VVC makes video transmission in mobile networks (where data capacity is limited) more efficient. For instance, the previous standard H.265/HEVC requires 10 gigabytes of data to transmit a 90-min UHD video,” reads Fraunhofer’s press release. “With this new technology, only 5 gigabytes of data are 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. Furthermore, H.266/VVC is ideal for all types of moving images: from high-resolution 360° video panoramas to screen sharing contents.”

Fraunhofer’s parent organization – the Fraunhofer Society, which is comprised of many smaller institutes like Fraunhofer HHI and others – is best known in the world of digital media standards as the creator of the MP3. It also contributed heavily to the creation of J.264 and H.265. So the research organization certainty has a storied and successful history working in data compression. But Fraunhofer does not mention in its press release the existence of AV1, an open-source and royalty-free competitor to the HEVC standard created by the Open Media Alliance, which includes all five major US tech giants after Apple signed on in early 2018. AV1 and its predecessor, VP9, are integral for streaming 4K content from platforms like YouTube, so it’s likely these standards will continue to compete for years to come.

It’s not clear to what extent AV1, AVC, HEVC, and VVC will all coexist in the future, but Fraunhofer claims the Media Coding Industry Forum – the industry consortium to which it belongs alongside Apple, Sony, and others – is currently working toward chip designs to support VVC at the hardware level. “This autumn Fraunhofer HHI will publish the first software (for both encoder and decoder) to support H.266/VVC,” Thomas Schierl, head of the Video Coding and Analytics department at Fraunhofer HHI, said in a statement.