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HLS Still "Industry Standard," Says Encoding.com Report

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Encoding.com's Global Media Format Report has become an annual barometer for the streaming industry since its inception in 2015, particularly regarding the adoption and usage of codecs and streaming formats. The 2017 report, which covers Encoding.com's production in 2016, provided some very interesting insights. I'll share only a few, so as not to steal the report's thunder, which you can download yourself without registration.

For perspective, the report incorporates data from more than 3,000 clients that uploaded 5.9 petabytes of source video files to Encoding.com's 14 global processing centers, up from 1.45 petabytes in 2015. The peak processing load achieved by Encoding.com was 21,700 simultaneous cores, the equivalent of 684 32-core instances. Interestingly, the average number of target outputs for each source file dropped from 12 to 10, which Encoding.com attributes to content publishers mapping "HLS output to a broader set of devices."

One of the most significant findings in the report was the decline of HEVC as an output format, from 6% to 3% (Figure 1). Not surprisingly, Encoding.com attributed this in part to licensing issues surrounding HEVC, stating, “we believe HEVC codec license uncertainty and a lack of mobile device compatibility is significantly inhibiting the market from further exploration of this codec and has actually made it retreat.” We've covered the mess that HEVC licensors have made in launching HEVC many times, and this is objective proof that it's actually hindered deployment.

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Figure 1. VP9 has a strong debut at 11%, HEVC declines from 6% to 3%.

Encoding.com added support for VP9 in 2016, so there are no prior year numbers, but 11% seems like a great start. Here's what the report says: "Adding support for the VP9 codec in 2016 was followed by very strong adoption and market interest in VP9 as an alternative to H.264, especially for high-volume customers who benefit from the nearly half the data rate at the same quality when compared with H.264." This confirms the data rate savings touted by Google, though Encoding.com also reports some market hesitation due to the "significantly longer encoding times seen with Google's libvpx encoding engine."

HLS is Still the One

In terms of ABR formats, the report labels HLS as "the industry standard," stating, "HLS remains the most prominent standard, primarily due to its broad device compatibility (iOS, Android), Browsers, and OTT players (Apple TV, Roku, Fire TV, Chromecast) and is especially popular with video publishers who require sophisticated DRM or dynamic ad insertion integrations. Also supporting the standard is Apple's continued improvement of the protocol. HLS v5 was announced in September 2016 and most notably included support for Fragmented MP4."

DASH support grew from 10% in 2015 to 21% in 2016, though the MPEG LA royalty on DASH wasn't announced until November 2016, so any impact this has on DASH adoption remains to be seen. With an annual royalty cap of $30 million/year, you can expect all potential users to investigate alternatives and to continue to use HLS as long as possible.

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Figure 2. HLS continues to dominate, though DASH usage up by more than 50%.

The final observation I'll glean from the report relates to resolution. 4K made little inroads, increasing from 8%-10%. 720p encodings dropped the most significantly, from 38% to 23%, with 1080p picking up most of the slack, as well as 480p, which rose from 6%-12%, presumably for mobile. Overall, if you've been thinking that 720p was sufficient as your maximum resolution, now may be the time to reconsider.

Other topics of interest include DRM and closed caption format usage, the surge of usage of Dolby audio, cloud storage usage patterns, and which techniques are most commonly used for transit to and from the cloud. Basically, if you're looking for a reality check on any of your encoding decisions or cloud-based workflows, you'll find the report a highly useful tool.

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