VP9 video is everywhere even if you don't realize it, thanks to the likes of YouTube and Netflix. But, what is it and why should you care about it?
VP9 is an open and royalty-free codec. That’s one immediate reason why it is a very lucrative option especially for hyper scale internet video services who have embraced it as an upgrade over the immensely popular previous generation H.264 codec. VP9 was developed by Google as part of it's WebM project, and was historically used primarily on YouTube. However, the format has gradually expanded to Netflix and others. When Netflix began using it towards the end of 2016, reports showed they were able to save up to 36% bandwidth by using VP9 encoding together with their video chunking approach. The momentum around upgrading to VP9 has since grown as the codec has garnered the interest of other enterprises and developers alike. In fact, with the highest installation rate amongst the codecs available on the market, it is currently the most relevant codec for online streaming. Here's why:
Huge install base
It’s already an adopted format by Chrome (naturally) and Firefox browsers with a huge install base on several low-end and high-end Android devices. Despite it's incompatibility with Safari, VP9 boasts support on almost 3 Billion devices - nearly double of HEVC's support on about 1.7 Billion devices. More details on this can be found here. With Apple's joining AOM, a possibility of an initial support for VP9 and later addition of AV1 support on Safari can't be ruled out.
High Quality Encoding Tools
With High Quality Encoding tool sets, VP9 delivers a low bandwidth streaming option suitable for an array of resolutions from mobile through 4K. Google claimed in 2015 that this codec actually cuts the size of the average video in half, which is important when it comes to enhancing user experience with lower bandwidths and higher resolutions. Google had earlier stated in their blog post that their vision is for every internet user to enjoy high-quality videos without having to wait a second for them to buffer. VP9 does put them one step closer to achieving that goal with it's incredible compression efficiency thereby enabling a size decrease of HD video to something that can be easily consumed on most internet connections. VP9 video codec is also engineered to get more efficient at larger resolutions than its predecessors making it a natural migration option for 4K services.
Unlike other codecs that came before VP9, VP9 is open-source and it’s going to stay that way. Because it’s free to use, more and more developers are reviewing to incorporate it into their products, including some big names in the streaming video industry. Why would you pay for something when you can get a comparable quality codec that's proven and deployed for free?
VP9 is the predecessor to AV1 - AOM's next generation video codec that was released this week. While AV1 shows a lot of potential and promise, the reality is that it may be at least a few years away as far as hyperscale mass hardware deployments are concerned. Furthermore, the codec is highly complex and will take time for implementations to come about that have high quality real-time encoding with significant gains. In the meanwhile, VP9 fits in as the perfect option that's available today, with proven deployments and excellent video quality improvements all rolled in to one codec at an excellent price point.
Naturally, you can expect to see VP9 continue to grow in popularity as most developers begin to adopt it as their standard video codec. Considering that days’ worth of video is published to YouTube every minute, investing on improving compression and lowering the bandwidth needed for streaming content was a smart move from Google. The reduced size of video files for the same output quality delivered means that, even as 4K videos get added into the mix more often, everyone will get to enjoy pristine quality content with faster loading times and decreased buffering using this new codec. It's only a matter of time until this gets implemented on other mass online video platforms which choose to migrate to VP9 from existing H.264 codec to leverage on all the freebies that come with it.