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Is the AVC/H.264 Codec Finally Fading?

“Emerging” codecs like AV1, VP9, and HEVC are hardly newcomers to the streaming scene, and their implementation and breadth of industry support—particularly AV1’s—has grown by leaps and bounds. Yet the long-in-the-tooth AVC/MPEG-4 Part 10 just won’t go away, largely because of its tried-and-true every-device support, even though the superior efficiencies of more advanced codecs are legion. So, how close to obsolescence is AVC in 2024?

Tim Siglin, Founding Executive Director, Help Me Stream Research Foundation, and Contributing Editor, Streaming Media, discusses this topic with Sean Gardner, Head, Video Strategy & Market Development, AECG, AMD, Hassene Tmar, Technical Program Manager, Video Infrastructure, Meta, Software Coordinator, AOM, and Andrey Norkin, Senior Research Scientist - Video Algorithms, Netflix, in this clip from Streaming Media Connect 2024.

Siglin says to the panelists, “The question seems to come up every five to seven years because AVC is the majority of what we encode in. Is there a crossover point that we're reaching, not just for another codec that would be encoding the same amount as AVC but also for a combination of other codecs that would be encoding the same as AVC? We've constantly said we will replace AVC, yet we still seem to encode in AVC [regularly]. So where's that crossover?”

Gardner says, “AVC will continue to be a dominant codec for quite some time, [but] its share is certainly dropping. I think AV1 [works best] for some applications. And I do think we'll see some VVC, and there are even additional things like LCEVC, which could work in combination with AVC. So we're going to see more splintering, [and] I don't think we'll ever get to the same single codec ideal that we had hoped for. Some applications have significantly different pain points or economics and different application requirements, whether it be latency or other [factors]. So, some applications will continue to use AVC. I think in order to make the economics work, we'll need to move to a newer codec. Cloud gaming, for example, really couldn't make sense economically using AVC.”

Tmar says, “From the Meta side, I think we're getting to a point where we are seeing that AVC is not enough anymore, although we still encode every video as of today into an AVC rendition due to the lack of support of other codecs, specifically mobile devices, which is the biggest population of target client devices that we see. But as of this year, we are starting to see that cross point. We stream it to VP9 and AV1 as well. And we're at a point where we're hoping to move from the minimum codec requirement from being AVC to VP9. And so AVC will be only [be used] as a legacy support as compared to every video. Then, VP9 will probably be the main portion. I know that our set of applications is a little different, but this is what we see on our side. It's been quoted publicly that more than 70% of our watch time on iOS is already in AV1, and that number is growing.”

Norkin says, “For Netflix, the [amount] of devices that we have to stream to is somewhat bigger. So it includes a lot of TVs, for example. What we see is that in the past year, there has been quite an uptake in AV1 streaming, but we still have AVC as a fallback. So when nothing else can be streamed, you fall back to AVC, and I expect that at least some AVC decoders will be there because of [older] devices. Basically, for Netflix, at least for the VOD distribution of the codecs, it primarily depends on the devices' decoder support. So when we see more devices coming with newer codecs, then we'll see more streaming with these new products.”

See videos of the full program from Streaming Media Connect February 2024 here.

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