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Google Chrome Plays HEVC: What Does it Mean?

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When I first heard that Google Chrome played HEVC, I checked the weather in Hades to determine if the River Styx had, in fact, frozen over. Reports were inconclusive. Then I started reaching out to colleagues and contacts whose opinions I value to get their reactions and thoughts. Many spoke on the record, and many didn’t. In this article, I’ll attempt to piece their inputs together to help you understand exactly what happened and allow you to draw your own conclusion as to what it might mean.

In case you haven’t heard, here’s what we learned from the Bitmovin blog entitled Google Quietly Added HEVC Support in Chrome. Daniel Weinberger, who penned the post, stated, “Quietly, without any announcement or updates on support pages, Google fixed a bug in Chrome with a significant implication for the video streaming industry: Support for adaptive streaming of HEVC/H.265 video content has finally been enabled! ... It’s now officially supported for Chrome 104, and with a little investigation also found out that it’s enabled by default for Chrome 105 for all platforms, ready to be used in the wild.”

Note one major caveat, however: HEVC is enabled in Chrome only when playback support is already available on the underlying platform, whether Windows, Linux, Mac, iOS, or Android. However, most of these platforms—particularly Mac, iOS, Android, and Windows—already support HEVC in hardware. There are several other caveats, particularly relating to DRM and HDR, which we’ll explore below.

Just for fun, if you want to see if your version of Chrome version plays HEVC, navigate Chrome to bit.ly/play_hevc on the Bitmovin site and see if the video plays. Then come back and finish the rest of the article.

CanIUse or Not?

HEVC, the designated standards-based successor to H.264, launched in 2013 to great acclaim and even greater expectations. But three patent pools and overreaching and poorly defined royalty expectations created significant antipathy, which is largely credited with the 2015 launch of the Alliance for Open Media (AOMedia) of which Chrome developer Google was a founding member. The AV1 codec shipped in mid-2018.

One of AOMedia’s key strengths is that members own all major browser platforms and can decide which codecs to support, and which to ignore. Before the Chrome announcement, other than Apple, which started supporting HEVC before it joined AOMedia, no other members supported HEVC in their current browser.

When I checked CanIUse for the percentage of HEVC support in May 2022 for a Streaming Media presentation, the number stood at 18.53%. This compared to 74.6% for AV1, which was two years younger, but benefited from support from all AOMembers in their current browsers except for Apple. A few days after the Bitmovin article, HEVC support skyrocketed to over 80% before it dropped back to 22.91% (on October 14, 2022), probably because HEVC playback won’t be enabled by default on all platforms until versions 107-109.

Beyond the browser, HEVC support is nearly universal. Buoyed by 4K and High Dynamic Range (HDR) content, HEVC is the codec of choice for premium content in the living room. Apple added HEVC support to iOS, macOS, and tvOS in 2017. Android 5 and later versions also support HEVC, mostly via hardware support to preserve battery life and ensure full-frame playback. This enables HEVC support in Android apps but not Chrome, so prior to Google’s September 21 bug fix, publishers whodistributed via browsers couldn’t easily deploy via HEVC.

With a global market share that approaches 65.52% on computers and mobile devices, Google’s refusal to support HEVC in Chrome made HEVC implausible for producers who distributed primarily to browsers. As a result, HEVC dominated on Smart TVs and dongles and had some success in mobile, but that was it, despite offering significant bandwidth savings over H.264.

Now that Chrome plays HEVC, this bottleneck is gone. This raises several questions, like will this open the floodgates for HEVC encoding, and will it slow the momentum for AV1? These questions were among the many that our respondents answered.

As a caveat, we weren’t able to get any input fom Google for this article. I asked a high-level Google contact to introduce me to a Google employee who could speak on the record, but after agreeing to do so, he never responded. If Google does get in touch after publication, we’ll add some comments to this article online.

Let’s start with a look at what we know about Chrome’s HEVC implementation.

About Chrome’s HEVC Support

As most readers know, when you connect to a website to play a video, the website queries the player to identify its capabilities. For this reason, most (if not all) producers who distribute advanced codecs like HEVC, AV1, or VP9 also encode in H.264. If the player can’t decode the advanced stream, the website sends a manifest for H.264. For this reason, you don’t need 100% coverage to start distributing HEVC to browsers. Chrome will be able to play a significant percentage of HEVC videos, but there are some limitations.

Most playback capabilities are delineated on the Chromium Github site. By way of background, Chromium is the open-source project upon which Chrome (and Microsoft Edge and Opera) are based. Back in 2015, Bitmovin reported a “bug” in Chromium titled “Enable HEVC support in HTML5 MSE on HEVC-enabled Android phones.” On September 19, the status of the “bug” was quietly updated to “fixed” with no explanation.

We learn the following at the Chromium Github site:

Chrome HEVC decoding everages existing playback capabilities. The Github document is titled "A guide that teach you enable hardware HEVC decoding for Chrome / Edge, or build a custom version of Chromium / Electron that supports hardware & software HEVC decoding.” As you can see in Figure 1, the page offers three downloads. Two are for Chrome and Edge (Mac) and both of these “Support HW decoding only.” There’s also a version of Chromium (e.g. Not Chrome) that appears to support both hardware and software decoding. Whether a software decoder is included in the download is unclear, but it seems clear that Chrome itself needs a hardware decoder to play HEVC.

chrome and edge and hevc

Figure 1. It appears that Chrome and Edge (Mac) support hardware decoding only.

In answer to the question “Will HEVC decoding be enabled in Chrome by default in the future?” the Github document states “Chrome >= 107.0.5300.0 has already enabled HEVC HW decoding support for ChromeOS, Mac, Windows and Android by default, Chrome >= 108.0.5354.0 also enabled HEVC HW decoding support for Linux by default. Chrome 107 release version will be available after 2022-10-25.”

In terms of significant limitations, the Bitmovin article states, “The biggest drawback is that HEVC with Widevine DRM is not supported at this point, only clear, unprotected content. It’s unclear whether Google has plans to add support for this in the future or not.” Several sources have confirmed this, which I’ll elaborate on below.

Lack of DRM support is a big deal since premium content protected by DRM comprises a huge chunk of existing HEVC-encoded video. As one anonymous source commented, “Google not enabling HEVC+Widevine in Chrome is like having the cake but not being able to eat it.”

Regarding HDR, the Github document shares Table 1, below. Regarding Dolby Vision, the document states, “PQ backward compatibility single layer Dolby Vision (Profile 8.1, 8.2, 8.4, although when using API query dvh1.08.07, it still returns ‘not supported’), not support IPTPQc2 single layer Dolby Vision (Profile 5), not support multi-layer Dolby vision, not support Dolby Atmos audio (E-AC3).”

HDR support in Chromium

Table 1. HDR support in Chromium

Fortunately, incomplete Dolby Vision support isn’t as significant as the lack of DRM because most producers create Dolby Vision and HLG formats anyway to support the broadest range of HDR-capable devices.

Taking a step back, it’s interesting that though Chromium is separate from Chrome, the Chromium blog often speaks for Chrome with statements like “ “Chrome >= 107.0.5300.0 has already enabled HEVC HW decoding support for ChromeOS, Mac, Windows and Android by default.” I asked Bitmovin’s Weinberger about this and he explained, “Chromium is the open-source project Google is maintaining ... So if there is software support implemented, every browser (like Chrome) can still decide if they want to ship this feature or not (if a flag for it exists).”

Given that the bulk of what we actually know comes from the Chromium blog, and not directly from Google, there’s still some risk that Google might say “Never mind,” and disable HEVC support. I don’t think that’s likely, but it’s definitely worth remembering as a possibility.

Will We See a Huge Uptick in HEVC Usage?

So, those are the basic facts; now what does it all mean? Will this spark a run on HEVC encoders and encoding services? Responses ranged from a strongly positive endorsement to a muted meh. For example, Alex Giladi, a Fellow at Comcast, stated, “We are excited about the support of HEVC in Google Chrome, which is an important step forward in ensuring ubiquitous access to a more efficient video codec. This will help to drive better, more efficient video delivery, as well as better streaming experiences for viewers around the world.”

Several other large producers stated that they would send HEVC to any platform that supported it (DRM permitting), and several service providers/encoding vendors like Harmonic and Bitmovin were recommending the same to their customers. Speaking for Bitmovin, Daniel Weinberger commented, “If you are already doing HEVC in your workflow, add the option to your offering on all platforms your application supports! Any good player will choose more efficient codecs if supported on a given platform or falls back to a less efficient one that’s supported (like H.264 typically).”

Harmonic VP, Video Strategy Thierry Fautier stated, “For our customers delivering UHD on PCs, they now have full access to HEVC and HDR, which is a huge benefit.”

Noted compressionist Fabio Sonnati, Media Architect, and Encoding and Streaming Specialist at NTT Data, added, “For sure, H.265 on Chrome could help to reuse the H.265 renditions that many OTT streaming already produce for devices like Firestick (4K), connected TVs, etc... An enlargement of H265 usage and audience may even subtract use cases from AV1.”

Answering the question, “Will this accelerate usage of HEVC for producers who aren’t using it yet?” another streaming media consultant responded, “I think so. People are ready, waiting, excited for the next generation of video codecs to become a reality and everyday element to a degree. This is a step closer that may push those waiting on the line to jump in or at least take another baby step.”

Still, several other respondents didn’t think that Chrome supporting HEVC would bring a rush of new HEVC-encoded content. For example, Greg Ellis, COO & VP of Business Development and Sales at Dacast, commented, “The near-term impact is muted somewhat because of the current viewing device demographics.” Ellis noted that most premium content is consumed on Smart TVs and mobile devices which already support HEVC playback, the latter via apps. According to Ellis, “That leaves business users and video advertising IMO as the areas that will be most impacted.”

Magnus Svensson, a Media Solution Specialist at Eyevinn Technology, added, “I think that HEVC support in Chrome will make it easier for services to move to HEVC as the codec is now supported in the majority of the browsers. But I’m not sure that we’ll see a huge increase just because of this. Lack of support in Chrome has been a factor in holding back, but I don’t think that this has been the deciding factor.”

One limiting factor is the lack of DRM support already cited, plus the fact that even once DRM is available, that browser-based viewers will only see relatively low-resolution versions. As one video engineer who works for a large OTT shop commented, “The sad part is… HEVC is great, but most people get SD or 720p in Chrome due to DRM limitations. So it’s not like it’s going to make the biggest difference (given that HEVC really starts to shine at 1080 and up given all the big transforms, etc.).”

Will There Be Content Royalties?

Beyond DRM, the continuing potential for content royalties is concerning to several respondents. Behnam Kakavand, the video R&D lead engineer at Evolution Gaming, commented that HEVC playback in Chrome “does increase the likelihood of using HEVC for us. However, it is only one factor, and there are others at play as well, like the additional costs including royalty, which require investigation from our legal department. In fact, the content royalties do have a big influence on the decision on whether we are ever going to use HEVC or not.”

To this, Harmonic’s Fautier added, “While Chrome’s support of HEVC will help it to be deployed on PCs, the royalty issues have not been resolved.”

I asked patent attorney Robert J. L. Moore from Volpe Koenig about the potential for content roylties. He pointed out that “neither of the two existing pools, which account for about 85% of existing HEVC patents, is charging royalties for streaming. The Velos members, by and large, have either joined the Access Advance HEVC pool (Panasonic and Sony) or have their own robust licensing programs that major implementers, including content providers, are probably licensing already.”

Continuing, Moore stated that “certainly, there exist HEVC patent owners unaffiliated with pools, and content providers not already licensed to the unaffiliated owners’ portfolios could be required to pay some royalties. Still, in light of the above, and in light of the fact that we haven’t seen a significant amount of HEVC SEP enforcement so far against content providers, I don’t see Velos’s exit significantly changing the royalty paradigm for content providers implementing HEVC. In short, I expect that content providers will most likely continue to enjoy the ability to implement HEVC for low or no royalties.” Every content company considering distributing HEVC encoded content should obviously perform their own due diligence, but Moore’s comments seem to indicate that the potential for royalties is slight.

One comment from an anonymous contributor who works for a streaming technology provider wraps this part of the discussion in a nice bow. He stated, “Although Chrome browser is not the biggest in terms of viewing share (compared to TVs, STBs, native Android/iPhone), the HEVC support in Chrome is another step in simplifying the question of which codecs/profiles to deploy, to reach as many clients as possible. This could push operators towards AVC (as ‘default/fallback’), and HEVC for higher-resolution/premium content, even more. Given that at least one large broadcaster spontaneously referred to the change in a conversation about profile/codec selection, and that it seemed to impact their decision, I’d say it is a meaningful change.”

What About AV1?

Another interesting topic is the impact of Chrome’s playing HEVC on AV1. Is codec support a zero-sum game where if HEVC gains AV1 loses? Our respondents were mixed.

Harmonic’s Fautier commented, “AV1 has its own ecosystem, driven by GAFAN companies. This announcement will not derail their plans to avoid HEVC.” Bitmovin’s Weinberger added, “the position hasn’t really changed. AV1 support is also already quite widespread - more than 70% according to caniuse, it’s more efficient than HEVC and it’s royalty-free. Jumping on the same royalty-free claim, Evolution’s Kakavand added, “Given that the royalties on content are still unclear for us, we still put our bet on the AV1 as a viable next-gen codec. If it turns out that the content royalties are not a blocker, then we can think more seriously about the possibility of using HEVC for desktops.”

Of course, AV1’s royalty-free status is far from certain, as Sisvel’s AV1 patent pool attests. And at least one prominent analyst, Alex Davies, Senior Analyst at Rethink, thinks that HEVC’s gain might be AV1’s loss. To explain, Davies feels that Google refused to support HEVC to promote AV1, and opines that Google supporting HEVC now means ”that the list of priorities has changed inside Google. The big, juicy, spiciest take would be that this is Google admitting defeat and opening the door for HEVC, but it could easily be a new leadership within the Chrome project—either somewhere at the top, or lower down on the bug program ... Part of the argument for AV1 was that HEVC was not workable in its use cases, so now that is seemingly no longer the case.”

The Big Picture

Beyond the tactical implications discussed above, some of the most thoughtful observations came from Eli Lubitch, president of codec company BEAMR, during a rambling hour or so long phone call. I mention the phone call because most of this will be paraphrasing from hastily typed notes, with few direct quotes.

To start, Lubitch said he thought that Google’s move to support Chrome related to the fact that the most ubiquitous class of capture devices—phones and tablets—almost all had the option to capture in HEVC format (many as the default). Since the primary browser for viewing such videos is Chrome, HEVC support was an obvious step if long overdue.

Beyond the decision itself, Lubitch lamented the low-profile, quiet release by Google relating to this critical decision. Google, a prominent AOMedia member, is now widely embracing HEVC. So, nine years after the launch of HEVC and five years after AV1 shipped, “The evidence cannot be reduced to a clear strategy.” The uncertainties this creates slow the adoption of both codecs because “customers are reluctant to move when the ecosystem isn’t well defined."

He also noted that while large companies like Google have the resources and talent to support multiple technologies like AV1 and HEVC, many smaller companies don’t. “Smaller companies can’t duplicate or replicate progress along two major front lines; they have to choose. And if they choose wrong, it may be very costly.”

Finally, Lubitch observed that while the video market used to quickly choose a winner between competing technologies—remember Betamax vs. VHS, or Blu-ray vs. HD-DVD—the codec market accelerates in the opposite direction, not only open source vs. standards-based but VVC vs. EVC vs. LCEVC. Clearly, this is suboptimal for all participants, from codec developers to device manufacturers, to content publishers, and especially the viewer.

hevc enabled by default

So, this is where we are. I had hoped to deliver clarity but there was simply none to be found. As Lubitch so aptly stated, “the evidence cannot be reduced to a clear strategy,” and Google itself isn’t talking.

_________________________________________________

Full Comments from Interviewees

Here are comments from contributors that were’t included in their entirety in the story. Contributors listed by alphabetical order of their companies. Anonymous contributors are included at the end.

Daniel Weinberger, Principal Solutions Architect Bitmovin

What versions of Chrome does this impact (number/platform)?

Google started rollout of this feature behind flags, with some platforms enabled per default earlier than others. As of Chrome 105 it should be enabled for all platforms by default, but some users reported that it’s still not working. Seems only Chrome 107 will bring it to all users (with hardware support) on all platforms Chrome supports.

Does the user have to do anything to make this work (opt-in, load a module, buy something) or does it work just like H.264?

As of Chrome 105, this works for many people out of the box just like H.264, but not for everyone as reports indicate. There are indications that with Chrome 107 this should be the case for everybody. The gotcha is that a hardware decoder seems to be required.

What about HDR? Does the player handle it?

At least the popular Dolby Vision isn’t supported yet by Google Chrome.

What are you recommending to customers currently encoding with HEVC say for the
living room?

If you are already doing HEVC in your workflow, add the option to your offering on all platforms your application supports! Any good player will choose more efficient codecs if supported on a given platform, or falls back to a less efficient one that’s supported (like H.264 typically).

I understand that for DRM purposes, some premium content vendors won’t be able to send 1080p streams to play in a browser. Is this true? If so, do you have many customers who are delivering HEVC that isn’t DRM protected?

DRM is indeed a topic, in two regards:
i. Chrome doesn’t support DRM with HEVC at all today. Whether this will be added in a future Widevine CDM update remains to be seen.
ii. Content rights owners often require more strict DRM levels, often referred to as hardware-level DRM, to stream higher resolutions like UHD or additional features like HDR. Not all browsers offer this; if one doesn’t, only the lower qualities can be played.

This depends on the customers revenue model, content rights requirements, and finally a benefit-cost-analysis. With the right use case and further encoding optimization like Bitmovin’s Per-Title the savings on the CDN bill can easily outweigh the additional costs, thus can be a fit also for non-Hollywood content providers. It’s also important to know your target audience, understand the devices they use and their capabilities.
There are quite some customers using HEVC also without DRM.

How has this changed your position regarding recommending AV1 to producers delivering to a browser or anywhere else? Do you think it will impact AV1’s penetration?

The position hasn’t really changed. AV1 support is also already quite widespread--more than 70% according to caniuse, it’s more efficient than HEVC and it’s royalty-free. At least for now, Chrome’s HEVC support does not include DRM support. It’s unclear if Google has plans to add support for that, but until this happens HEVC is not an option in Chrome for providers of premium content, but might be for other companies.

In general, what bandwidth savings do you see for HEVC over H.264?

Generally, we see about 50% bandwidth saving of HEVC over H.264, using the same visual quality.

How challenging will it be to query the browser for HEVC playback capabilities to determine if HEVC is possible?

The basic querying is pretty straightforward, today’s standard "MediaSource.isTypeSupported" provides the answer. If the provided content is not DRM protected, this is all it needs. With DRM protection it gets more complicated because it’s not necessarily about the browser’s codec support but the Content Decryption Module’s (CDM) codec support. The two may overlap but don’t have to.

caniuse recently changed from about 20% usage to about 70% usage for HEVC, a huge increase. Do you see the market opening that much?

Yes. Chrome has a global browser market share of more than 65%, adding that to the previous 20% is already even more than 80%. The required hardware HEVC decoders are quite widespread, but of course still not available in all devices. Especially manufacturers of low-end devices save money by omitting it. On the other hand, also the Chromium-based Microsoft Edge browser supports HEVC now if the hardware is available. So overall I think this number is reasonable.

What type of customer do you see benefiting from this the most? Is this enough for non-DRM companies like ESPN/CNN to start delivering HEVC to the browser?

There is no generic answer to this question, companies need to calculate this for their use case and user base. As you would still want to serve H.264 for backwards compatibility, adding HEVC is an overhead in terms of encoding and storage. However, the larger bill for high-volume content is CDN cost. By using the more efficient HEVC video codec, this cost could be reduced quite significantly, and outweigh the encoding and storage cost by far. By using additional optimization techniques like Bitmovin's Per-Title can further reduce the storage and CDN costs. For niche content this benefit-cost calculation could have a different outcome than for popular mainstream content.

If a company already has HEVC content in the catalog, e.g., for serving living room devices or Apple devices, providing them also for their browser offering should be a no-brainer.

Greg Ellis, Dacast

HEVC in Chrome will be a big issue in a year or so and probably sooner for broadcasters and with the World Cup coming up (the next record-breaking, network capacity-straining streaming event). The near-term impact is muted somewhat because of the current viewing device demographics.

A lot of consumer viewing is TV centric streaming (those who have cable with streaming apps or who mostly watch HULU/Netflix/etc on their 50" TVs) and the impact there will be minimal initially. You might see some of these apps move to being browser based but that will involve new generations of TVs in some cases and apps in others.

Most consumer viewing that is not on a TV is on a mobile device, and most of that is phone or tablet rather than laptop. Since this is mostly based on apps it would take a round of app modifications and in any event, most mobile devices have HW accelerated HEVC decoding now so I doubt if Chrome support will impact this group significantly.

That leaves business users and video advertising IMO as the areas that will be most impacted. I think you will see Sprout, Wistia, and the other platforms that specialize in video ad and marketing content delivery jump on it first. While I am not fully up to date on what the social platforms are doing these days in the video codec arena, I also think they will probably be impacted to some degree.

Overall, I assume it will have a major near-term impact in the growth of video advertising and video marketing content, a notable impact in the delivery of social content to viewers not on mobile devices (by reducing the incremental cost of a new streaming viewer), and a smaller impact mostly centered around big event streaming (March Madness, World Cup) where HEVC usage should reduce network loads and improve the experience.

Behnam Kakavand | Video R&D lead engineer, Evolution Gaming

Which codecs are you using now?

Currently, we only are using H.264 for live streaming.

Does HEVC in Chrome make it more likely for you to use HEVC for desktop playback?

It does increase the likelihood of using HEVC for us. However, it is only one factor, and there are others at play as well, like the additional costs including royalties.

What type of bandwidth savings would you need to justify the expense of adopting a new codec into your pipeline? What are you expecting from HEVC?

Depending on the content, and the size of the audience savings between 20 to 30% on HD content could justify the cost of additional codec to our pipeline. As for the HEVC, we expect to see something around 20% saving in bandwidth or a properly noticeable increase in
visual quality.

How many days/weeks/months of work would you estimate it would take to incorporate HEVC into your encoding pipeline and player?

I must admit that we got pretty comfortable with a workflow, including encoding, delivery, and playback, built around the AVC, simply because up until very recently, there were no serious other contenders to the rule of the H.264 on the online live streaming ecosystem. With the promises of AV1 we started to think about and work towards true protocol, container, and CODEC agnosticism and it was no small task. It is still an ongoing process and hard to provide exact estimates.

Is content royalties for HEVC a concern?

It surely is and it requires investigation from our legal department. In fact, the content royalties do have a big influence on the decision on whether we ever are going to use HEVC or not.

What does this do regarding your thoughts about AV1? Given that the royalties on content are still unclear for us, we still put our bet on the AV1 as a viable next-gen codec. If it turns out that the content royalties are not a blocker, then we can think more seriously about the possibility of using HEVC for desktops.

Magnus Svensson - Eyevinn

I think that HEVC support in Chrome will make it easier for services to move to HEVC as the codec is now supported in majority of the browsers. But I'm not sure that we'll see a huge increase just because of this. Lack of support in Chrome has been a factor for holding back, but I don't think that this has been the deciding factor.

We might see an uptake in HEVC traffic as Chrome users now have access to HEVC streams that already was deployed, but I doubt that streaming services will introduce new HEVC support because of this.

I believe Firefox will eventually follow, but as AVC still will be the dominant codec there is no panic. I also don't think that HEVC support in Chrome change the game for AV1. The reasons for AV1 and adopting AV1 support hasn't really changed.

Finally, I believe that LCEVC might be the way forward as an add-on to AVC.

Thierry Fautier - Harmonic, Inc. Vice President, Video Strategy

Are you aware of any serious limitations of Chrome’s HEVC support (other than it needs a hardware decoder on board) that would hinder usage by content publishers?

Yes. For some patent pools, a license needs to be paid for by the device maker, hence the pushback by Chrome.

What are you recommending to customers who are currently creating HEVC for mobile or living room?

On mobile devices, most newer smartphones support HEVC. For instance, Qualcomm and Apple support HEVC. Meanwhile, many OTT service providers are still widely using HD AVC and UHD HEVC. In the TV environment, there are many BYOD set-top boxes that support HEVC, and all 4K TVs support HEVC. Thus, from a device point of view there is good coverage, but similar to the mobile scenario many OTT service providers still largely use HD AVC and UHD HEVC. Pay-TV operators have deployed HEVC for UHD and AVC for HD. For TV Everywhere (TVE) they use
the same combinations. Broadcasters outside of the U.S. use HD AVC and UHD HEVC, and the same for TVE. In the U.S., HD is still delivered in MPEG-2, but many broadcasters are migrating to HEVC and UHD with the ATSC 3.0 standard. OTT ATSC broadcast is generally in HD AVC.
PC browsers besides Apple Safari and Microsoft Edge block the use of HEVC; therefore, we advise our customers to encode HD and UHD in AVC and simulcast in HD/UHD HEVC for Apple Safari. Note that UHD AVC requires very high bitrates, so it is not commonly used.

Has this changed your recommendations to customers who are currently only using H.264?

Yes, for HD, they can now use HEVC and reduce the amount of bandwidth. For our customers delivering UHD on PCs, they now have full access to HEVC and HDR, which is a huge benefit.

How does Chrome playing HEVC impact your predictions for the success of AV1?

AV1 has its own ecosystem, driven by GAFAN companies. This announcement will not derail their plans to avoid HEVC. For pay-TV operators and OTT service providers with live offerings, HEVC support on Chrome will lower the bandwidth required for HD and enable support of UHD HDR on PCs. This could make operators think twice before using AV1. They still need to resolve royalty aspects, which is an entirely different discussion. Note that Macs already support HEVC in both HD and UHD HDR.

Will this help HEVC to be deployed a broader scale?

While Chrome’s support of HEVC will help it to be deployed on PCs, the royalty issues have not been resolved.

Fabio Sonnati, Media Architect, Encoding and Streaming Specialist at NTT Data

The news is obviously interesting but from what I know, Chrome will leverage on the local OS capability. This should mean that on Windows you still have to buy the H265 codec from the Windows store, while on Mac it should work as already working in Safari. So, to understand if the news has some impact we should assess the real amount of clients capable to decode H.265 without other actions (like buy a decoder). I'm still trying to understand fully this aspect but for sure H.265 on Chrome could help to reuse the H.265 renditions that many OTT streaming already produce for devices like Firestick (4K), connected TVs, etc... an enlargement of H.265 usage and audience may even subtract use cases from AV1.”

Alex Davies, Senior Analyst at Rethink

I think if you take Bitmovin’s post as honest, which I think you can, then it would entirely suggest that HEVC’s absence from Chrome was intentional. Google would surely have the manpower to implement that fix years ago, so then it sounds like that bug report was relegated in the queue for whatever reason.

That reason would presumably be that Google wanted to promote AV1 instead, so on that basis, I would then come to the conclusion that the list of priorities has changed inside Google. The big, juicy, spiciest take would be that this is Google admitting defeat and opening the door for HEVC, but it could easily be a new leadership within the Chrome project--either somewhere at the top, or lower down on the bug program.

If the Bitmovin numbers are right, then leaping to that rate of penetration inside mobile devices doesn’t sound good for AV1 momentum. Part of the argument for AV1 was that HEVC was not workable in its use cases, so now that that is seemingly no longer the case.

Nothing to change your 10-year projections? Or would you project AV1 usage downwards and HEVC up?

I shall have to mull it over for a while, but initially, I think HEVC wouldn’t change much, but sounds like AV1 would be downwards--as one of the sole reasons to use it was on mobile, and I believe most mobile platforms (and therefore most/many) set tops will have HEVC.

Colleague from large OTT publisher

It’s very good news for operators that use HEVC since they can stop delivering AVC to Chrome! Some might even be able to stop making AVC entirely.

How much testing would be needed to switch to HEVC for Chrome?

The hard part is you’d only be able to serve people on the latest version who have underlying HEVC decoders. But honestly it’s not much work to add the necessary checks. The sad part is… HEVC is great but most people get SD or 720p in chrome due to DRM limitations. So it’s not like it’s going to make the biggest difference (given that HEVC really starts to shine at 1080 and up given all the big transforms etc.).

So.. not much testing needed tbh. Just maybe not enough benefit to jump on it right away.

Anonymous Streaming Technology Provider

I saw the announcement about HEVC support in Chrome, and already had some discussions around it with customers. Although Chrome browser is not the biggest in terms of viewing share (compared to TVs, STBs, native Android/iPhone, …), the HEVC support in Chrome is another step in simplifying the question of which codecs/profiles to deploy, to reach as many clients as possible. This could push operators towards AVC (as ‘default/fallback’), and HEVC for higher-resolution/premium content, even more.

Given that at least one large broadcaster spontaneously referred to the change in a conversation about profile/codec selection, and that it seemed to impact their decision, I’d say it is a meaningful change…

Anonymous Consultant

Will this make HEVC a viable option for delivery to the browser?

I think it makes it closer to a reality and something very interesting to consider.

Does this make HEVC more desirable than AV1 given that many producers already deliver HEVC to TVs so they have those encodes?

I have been on the HEVC bus since early days so I'm likely biased. With the support of HEVC on iOS and tvOS and growth in browsers it does become more compelling to avoid the dreaded fragmentation we all fight.

Is it one step closer to the demise of H.264?

Likely in a very long tail perspective. Hardware really drives what we have to support. I foresee H.264 death rattle to last a long time--but I'm a video old Flash guy so I'm used to that.

Will this accelerate usage of HEVC for producers who aren’t using it yet? (kind of like question 1).

I think so. People are ready, waiting, EXCITED for the next generation of video codecs to become a reality and every day element to a degree. This is a step closer that may push those waiting on the line to jump in, or at least take another baby step.

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