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H.264 Continues to Dominate, and AV1 Is Looking for a Day Job

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When it comes to streaming media, there are many opinions but precious few data points. One of the most essential data collections is Encoding.com’s annual Global Media Format Report, which sheds light on many aspects of encoding and related technologies. On April 4, 2019, the company released its latest report which shares production data for all of Encoding.com’s thousands of customers during the calendar year 2018, plus many insights about the data to help you interpret what will happen in 2019 and beyond.

Encoding.com is one of the largest, if not the largest, independent cloud encoding company in the world, and its clients include some of the largest media companies. By any measure, its 2018 production numbers were staggering, with 916,144 cloud instances managed, servicing close to 6 billion API requests, with over 19.3 petabytes of source video content ingested.

What facts jumped out at us from this year's report? In terms of codec usage, H.264 still dominates, actually increasing from 81% in 2017 to 82% in 2018. HEVC encoding increased from 9% to 12%, which seems modest, but the report states, “Last year the majority of the HEVC usage we reported was in testing and development; however, in 2018 we can report that HEVC has been promoted to many production workflows and we anticipate a very substantive increase in volume driven by UHD HDR content.”

Not surprisingly, WebM and FLV use dropped from 7% to 2% while VP9 use dropped from 6% to 5%. However, Encoding.com’s numbers don’t include non-customers like YouTube and Facebook, both large users of VP9, so the actual percentage of VP9 bouncing around the internet is likely higher, perhaps significantly so. Encoding.com is definitely not drinking the AV1 Kool-Aid, with the report stating “AV1 remains a codec waiting for a major hardware, browser, or media ecosystem company to give the next generation codec a day job.” 

Regarding the ABR format, 2018 saw HLS use drop from 74% to 67%, with DASH increasing from 22% to 29% and Smooth Streaming holding firm at 4%, primarily for “OTT customers outside of North America.” Under the HLS hood, most producers (88%) favored MPEG-2 transport streams over fragmented MP4 files (12%), and only 3% of packaged HLS streams were HEVC. Perhaps other encoding vendors have experienced a dramatic uptake in HEVC use due to Apple’s incorporation of HEVC into HLS, but clearly, Encoding.com hasn’t.

In terms of DRM usage, Widevine encryption swelled from 42% to 48%, FairPlay increased from 37% to 39%, and PlayReady nudged up from 12% to 13%, all at the expense of Flash Access, which dropped from 9% in 2017 to nada in 2018. Commenting on the Common Media Application Format (CMAF), the report notes that although PlayReady and Widevine had both begun supporting Cipher Block Chaining in their latest versions, they haven’t reached sufficient adoption among the installed base of devices. Thus, “In 2018, adopting a CMAF compliant DRM workflow still requires generating and storing two versions of your media.” So, CMAF hasn’t yet proved to be the panacea many hoped it would be.

Interestingly, the report notes that many companies are adopting two-step workflows in which they encode the rungs in their encoding ladder first, then package to HLS or DASH. This “future-proofs” the ABR library, making it simpler and faster to support future ABR packaging and encryption technologies, and is a technique that all video producers should strongly consider.

Lots more in the report, including data on intermediate formats, audio, captions, HDR formats, video resolutions, and cloud storage. All this makes Encoding.com’s latest report absolutely essential for any streaming producer seeking hard data to make critical production decisions. It's available as a free download, no registration required.

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