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Which Streaming Codecs Do Netflix and Facebook Use?

Which streaming codecs do Netflix and Facebook use? Jan Ozer, Principal, Streaming Learning Center, Contributing Editor, Streaming Media, asks Andrey Norkin, Senior Research Scientist, Netflix, and David Ronca, Director, Video Encoding, Facebook, to discuss in-depth the specific codecs they use for their organizations.

“First of all, I should say that as a company that has a lot of members, over 200 million, we have to support a variety of products,” Norkin says. “Some legacy products that we started to use at a certain point until…a sufficient number of our members are using them for streaming. So from that perspective, I guess one of the products that we still support is H.264 [for] baseline. We also support the main profile for those devices that actually support this product. And that's more or less our fallback option if nothing else works for our customers since H.264 is probably the most widespread product nowadays.”

“In addition to that,” Norkin says, “We support some other products such VP9. For example, if you want some better codec efficiency on mobile devices -- on Android, then you can use VP9 if the device supports that. [We] do support HEVC for some TVs, or for example, if you want to stream HDR then often that would be HEVC. And we are currently working on rolling out AV1. So we do stream AV1 already on certain TVs on Android. We stream it also on certain game consoles and even on browsers. So the support is currently growing and that's basically our most efficient our most advanced codec nowadays.”

David Ronca of Facebook says, “No surprise, probably amongst everybody here, the dominant codec is still H.264. And I would say that…if you would've asked me 10 years ago, what the codec landscape would look like in 2022, H.264 would not have been my answer, but nevertheless, it's a faithful, reliable codec. It's got reasonable performance. From a computational perspective, it's phenomenal…from an efficiency perspective, it's not terrible. And obviously, device compatibility is a big issue. On the global population of mobile devices, web browsers, and connected TVs. So H.264 is still sitting in a very dominant space for us.”

Regarding VP9, Ronca says, “We’ve been streaming VP9 for several years. It's a significant efficiency win with a relatively modest computational cost. And so we've been using VP9, both for our standard definition and for our high-definition video. And then more recently we've deployed AV1. We have partnered with Netflix and other companies to bring mobile optimizations and web optimizations…x86 optimizations into the dav1d decoder. And now that's allowed us to deploy AV1 playback to a significantly large population of Android devices, as well as iOS…I'm really speaking about the live and video and demand use cases within, you know, the family of Meta applications…there are other use cases. We have…Oculus, we have…the teleconferencing devices, we have other areas where codecs are being used, like immersive, where it's slightly different, and I'm not speaking to those use cases, as far as codecs, we don't use the most obvious one.”

He further elaborates, “When I say 'don't use', I'm talking about producing and deploying encodes to users, I'm not talking about what we bring into our systems. It would be HEVC. And I've spoken to this before…the cloud of uncertainty, [of] royalty confusion still exists, particularly on the transcoding side, the playback side, the decoders were there, right? In the ecosystem. But the lack of clarity around the…IP expectations for encoding [has] always been a concern. So for HEVC, our use would be relatively small…low distribution use cases, perhaps some premium videos and such, but it doesn't really have a place. We have no plans to use VVC in the future. I won't say never, I'm not saying never for HEVC either. A VVC is just not really clear what the use case would be. And, you know, 3, 4, 5 years out, if anything changes. EVC -- I don't personally believe EVC is a codec. The world just doesn't need [it], we have too many already, it's too confusing. And so it's not clear to me what the market would be for EVC. With AV1…the implementations that are available, both closed source and open source, are showing AV1 to be an incredibly robust and efficient encoder with really solid computational efficiency as well. And so we're really bullish on AV1 over the next few years.”

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