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Is Chrome's HEVC Support a Game Changer for Browser-Based Streaming?

Chrome's announcement of HEVC support last October was a long time coming. But how impactful will it prove to be, given persisting DRM issues and device support? Jan Ozer, Principal, Streaming Learning Center, Sr. Director, Video Technology Marketing, NETINT, Contributing Editor, Streaming Media, discusses this topic with Kevin Yao, Global Principal Solution Architect for Direct to Consumer, Media and Entertainment Solutions, AWS, Igor Oreper, Chief Architect, Bitmovin, and Alex Zambelli, Technical Product Manager, Warner Bros Discovery, in this clip from Streaming Media Connect 2023.

“One of the biggest occurrences in the past 12 months related to codec adoption was Chrome's support for HEVC,” Ozer says. He asks Yao, “How significant is that for the people that you're representing, and what can you tell us about how it supports DRM?”

“HEVC really starts to shine on resolution 1080p and up,” Yao says. “But since most consumers are already watching high definition content on Smart TVs or are using the apps that already have the support built in, most premium content is consumed already supporting HEVC playback…the near term impact [for Chrome support of HEVC] is somewhat muted in my horizon. But we shall see for the longer term. I definitely see it as promising.”

Ozer says to Oreper, “Some tech people from Bitmovin broke the story, which was pretty exciting.”

“It was interesting,” Oreper says. “So we reported that as a bug like six years ago…”

Ozer laughs and says, “They fixed it!”

“It's fixed!” Oreper says. “It's amazing, I think it's great. It certainly increases the percentage of devices of clients [that are] capable or theoretically capable. You still need a hardware-based decoder on the device to decode HEVC. But in theory, that number is like 85, 86% now of browsers which [are] able to decode HEVC on compatible devices.” However, he notes that there are still lingering issues with DRM. “There's no support in a Widevine CDM [content decryption module] for HEVC on Chrome, unfortunately,” he says. “And that's a must for any premium content provider, certainly any of the SVOD streaming services. But I think it's a really positive step in the right direction. We were excited and surprised to see it, and kudos to Google for making that happen.”

Ozer asks Zambelli about his thoughts on the issue.

“I think that the best really thing to come out of that news is that it really improves the perception of HEVC as a widely supported codec,” Zambelli says. “Because I would say that browsers were really the exception. I think HEVC adoption actually reached critical mass several years ago because, with the exception of browsers, it had already become standard on all the smart TVs and all the streaming sticks, it was on every gaming console and mobile phones, as well. And so we were at a point where essentially it was really just browsers that were lagging behind. So I'm glad they did it because I think it just is a reminder that, okay, HEVC is here, it's a reality.”

“How did it affect your service, though?” Ozer asks. “What percentage more HEVC-encoded video are you sending to the browser now? Or was it like a nothing burger?”

“Ironically, for an SVOD service like HBO Max or Discovery Plus, it doesn't really have an impact because it still lacks the security coding,” Zambelli says. “It still lacks integration with DRM. And so until that's supported in Chrome, we can't really take advantage of the HEVC encoder there. We could potentially take advantage of it for playback, trailers, ads, and other short-form content that's not typically protected. But for the majority of our content, we actually still can't take advantage of it. So that's why I say, at least for us, it's really [better] for the perception of HEVC in terms of making sure that everyone is aware that it is now a widely supported codec.”

Learn more about HEVC and codecs at Streaming Media East 2023.

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