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Google Rolls Out VP9 Encoding For YouTube 109

An anonymous reader writes: The YouTube engineering blog announced that they've begun encoding videos with Google's open VP9 codec. Their goal is to use the efficiency of VP9 to bring better quality video to people in low-bandwidth areas, and to spur uptake of 4K video in more developed areas. "[I]f your Internet connection used to only play up to 480p without buffering on YouTube, it can now play silky smooth 720p with VP9."
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Google Rolls Out VP9 Encoding For YouTube

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  • How Many Features? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by bill_mcgonigle ( 4333 ) * on Tuesday April 07, 2015 @12:28AM (#49420299) Homepage Journal

    I was dismayed to click on the YouTube video editor today to be told I need a modern version of Flash to use it. I remember back to 2010 when YouTube was going to go all html5 within a year or two. It's amazing how the YouTube division can't afford to hire people to work on these things...

  • by steveha ( 103154 ) on Tuesday April 07, 2015 @01:04AM (#49420363) Homepage

    I'm not a codec expert. I'm just a dilettante, reading blog posts from time to time. I trust that if I screw anything up, someone will correct me.

    VP9 is superior to H.264. It's based on VP8, which is not as good as H.264, but it's roughly in the ballpark (meaning it's much better than H.262 used in MPEG-2). My guess is that VP9 probably isn't quite as good as H.265, but it is definitely in the ballpark.

    Google got VP8 by buying a company called On2. On2 claimed that their video coder was the best thing ever, better even than H.264, but now that people have seen the source code it's clear that was just puffery. (I guess VP8 is better than the "baseline profile" of H.264, but hardly anyone uses that; they use the more advanced features of H.264 which are better than the best VP8 can do.)

    Google paid over 100 million dollars for On2. I believe they did this mostly to get insurance for their YouTube business. YouTube really needs a good video coder: if the videos are terribly high in bandwidth, Google spends too much on the bandwidth and the customers have a bad experience (videos take forever to buffer on phones and/or look bad). But if H.264 is the only game in town, Google would be totally at the mercy of the patent owners. It was worth 100 million dollars to Google to hedge their bets and have a Plan B if the MPEG licensing guys ever tried to take advantage of Google's critical need for a really good video coder.

    After buying On2, Google was silent for almost a year. I believe that during that time, Google lawyers were poring over the VP6 code and making sure that nobody would win a patent infringement suit when Google released the code. Then they released the source code to VP8, and forever gave up any patent rights. VP8 is completely open source and unencumbered by patents.

    The general strategy of On2 seems to have been to read all the patents from coders like H.264, and then implement something similar, but different enough not to infringe. When VP8 was released, several people here on Slashdot opined that VP8 simply had to infringe on some patents, being as similar as it is to H.264. Well, it's years later now and the lawyers haven't gotten rich by suing Google yet. I think Google is in the clear.

    In fact, the MPEG Licensing Authority tried to put together a patent pool, with all the patents VP8 infringes. Over a year later, there were still no patents in the pool. Google made a one-time payment to MPEG-LA, and MPEG-LA gave Google a lifetime promise to not sue. Some here on Slashdot opined that this meant Google was admitting they had infringed on H.264 patents, but no; this was unconditional defeat for MPEG-LA, who got a little money but are not able to charge royalties or in any way control what anyone does with VP8.

    Now, here's the thing: VP8 was too late to win the war with H.264. All modern phones contain hardware acceleration for H.264, but likely not for VP8. But VP9 is not too late for the war with H.265; and I'm personally cheering for the BSD-licensed technology to win over the patent-encrusted technology.

    I'll still count it as a win if every phone ships with H.265 and VP9. I don't need H.265 to lose to be happy.

    The one thing that worries me a little bit was the recent story that someone is putting together a new patent pool [slashdot.org], outside of MPEG-LA. The only sane reason I can imagine for this: MPEG-LA has agreed never to sue Google; maybe someone wants to sue Google and this is the first step.

    My guess is that Google lawyers didn't screw anything up, and Google would eventually win the court battle; but perhaps the FUD caused by a lawsuit would make the hardware manufacturers pass on VP9. By the time the court battle was over, H.265 would be the hardware standard the same way H.264 is now.

    I hope I'm just wrong about this last part. It could simply be that a few companies want to get more money from H.265.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      It could simply be that a few companies want to get more money from H.265.

      I think it's this. The companies involved weren't satisfied with the licensing terms the MPEG LA had decided on so they formed a competing pool.

      Whatever their motivations, it's exactly these licensing complications that make it clear that the best way forward for video on the Web is to develop a high quality, royalty-free codec that everyone will implement. A video codec that gets standardized through the Internet Engineering Task Force [ietf.org] is more likely to the implemented by the likes of Apple and Microsoft t

    • by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Tuesday April 07, 2015 @03:29AM (#49420667) Homepage

      My guess is that Google lawyers didn't screw anything up, and Google would eventually win the court battle; but perhaps the FUD caused by a lawsuit would make the hardware manufacturers pass on VP9.

      I don't think even Google's lawyers could with certainty say they don't violate any obscure video patent somewhere. The GIF standard was torpedoed by a single patent, I'd be most surprised if there wasn't at least one shark in the water with a patent that VP9 violates, just waiting for it to get popular and to sue in East Texas for billions rather than play MPEG LAs game. Why be one of hundreds of sharks getting a nibble of the H.264 patents when you can be the one raking in all the VP9 patent royalties with a cut from every Android device sold?

      You don't need to be an evil mastermind to come up with that plan, just your average corporate scum which is why Google doesn't really want to commit. They want to use the VPx codecs to force reasonable H.264/H.265 license terms, but much like people waving around the threat to migrate to Linux they don't really want to jump into the unknown waters unless they have to. Is it FUD? Well, that depends on whether you believe there's a real chance of shark attack or not. Not every warning of danger is FUD.

      • I'd be most surprised if there wasn't at least one shark in the water with a patent that VP9 violates, just waiting for it to get popular

        Last time I checked, intentionally waiting for a patented process to become popular before suing was a good way to get your cause of action estopped by laches [wikipedia.org].

        • by Kjella ( 173770 )

          Not really, the doctrine of latches has two catches:
          1. It involves an unreasonable delay in filing a lawsuit, not in discovering infringement. If you hear a 50 year old song on the radio and go "Hey... my dad wrote that 51 years ago" you can sue today, unless there's a statue of limitations. On the other hand if it was because of the band breaking up and you disagree with the way the copyrights were divided, the doctrine of latches would apply because your dad should have filed suit 50 years ago. It might a

          • by tepples ( 727027 )

            If you hear a 50 year old song on the radio and go "Hey... my dad wrote that 51 years ago" you can sue today

            In a case like that, what steps should a songwriter reasonably have taken to avoid infringing copyright, or at least to avoid being bankrupted by an award of damages?

            there's no law against sticking your head in the sand for a few years before discovering your patent is being infringed

            But there's a big difference between that and "just waiting for it to get popular". The latter sort of implies that the patent holder has discovered the alleged infringement.

            The other big limitation is that it only applies to damages from before the filing of the lawsuit

            Once alleged infringers are made aware of alleged widespread infringement, expect a design-around to become adopted. PNG was a design-around for still GIF and turned out to

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      I work at a medium sized online service that use video. My comments to this:

      I don't know of any neutral parties who have really tested this who consider VP9 to be "superior" to H.264. The two codecs have different strengths and weaknesses, but VP9 is definitely not a generation ahead of H.264 in performance. And nowhere near H.265 (which is why Google is busy developing VP10).

      VP8 being open source and not having any specific patent challenges yet is in now way a guarantee for VPx use not infringing on p

    • by nadaou ( 535365 ) on Tuesday April 07, 2015 @05:11AM (#49420907) Homepage

      My guess is that VP9 probably isn't quite as good as H.265, but it is definitely in the ballpark.

      You'd be wrong about that actually. Monty's given it his usual expert and honest analysis, see one of his blog posts from late last year. Caveat: If you compare VP9 today vs. some tuned H.265 of the future the roles may reverse. Or not. Who knows that's just pure speculation and it's not like VP9 won't tune up either.

      But VP9 is not too late for the war with H.265

      In fact VP9 spec was finalized quarters before H.265, and Google has the ear and other anatomical bits of all the hardware manufactures in the Android world, so VP9 hardware support from the start is in very good shape.

      And what is never mentioned in the press releases is that VP9 and H.265 make their impressive bandwidth (or filesize) improvements at the cost of double the CPU needs. You do not want to be running these codecs without hardware support.

      The exciting stuff is Daala [xiph.org].

      • by Karlt1 ( 231423 )

        In fact VP9 spec was finalized quarters before H.265, and Google has the ear and other anatomical bits of all the hardware manufactures in the Android world, so VP9 hardware support from the start is in very good shape.

        All of the hardware manufacturers in the Android world? Google has no control over half of the Android phones in the world -- those selling in China and India running AOSP.

        Ask Adobe how far anything on the web gets without Apple's support.

    • I'll still count it as a win if every phone ships with H.265 and VP9.

      Samsung Galaxy S6 has built-in hardware support for VP9, AFAIK. It is the first phone to have this.

  • by jma05 ( 897351 ) on Tuesday April 07, 2015 @01:46AM (#49420449)

    I use youtube-dl to download presentations from Youtube. I have been getting VP9 webms for months from Youtube. If you type youtube -F , you can see all the DASH webm streams, which are encoded by VP9. The non-DASH webms are VP8 videos. With youtube-dl, you can select the DASH video and audio streams and combine them with ffmpeg. The file sizes are indeed much better.

    Short Test Video:
    youtube-dl --prefer-ffmpeg -f 247+171 https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]
    39 secs of this 720p clip comes out to 5.6 MB. With H264, it would 10.8 MB.

    The only problem I have is that I have to play them by dropping them in Firefox. I have not managed to get any of my desktop media players to get the codecs (Ubuntu 14.04). If any of you solved this, let me know.

    • by klui ( 457783 )

      I can't answer your question but the html5 player is much more efficient than the Flash player and I've set it as the default in Firefox. I find that a video would buffer more often using the Flash player compared to the html5 player.

      Does it mean the video has been encoded in VP9 if the nerd stats say DASH in Flash? The html5 stats say explicitly VP9.

      • by jma05 ( 897351 )

        > Does it mean the video has been encoded in VP9 if the nerd stats say DASH in Flash?

        Not all DASH streams are VP9. From what I have seen: The mp4 streams (DASH and non-DASH) are h264. webm DASH streams are VP9. webm non-DASH is VP8.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      You could try VLC 3.0 nightly (http://nightlies.videolan.org/)

    • I just downloaded the win32 binary of youtube-dl and the ffmpeg win32 binary, stuck them in a folder, opened a cmd.exe there, dumped that test commandline in your post, all in windows, then opened the resulting webm into VLC 2.1.5 for windows. Works like a charm. Maybe VLC would work for you on Ubuntu? Maybe the default distro channel in the package manager has an older proven-stable version of VLC? You might need to get a more recent package. There's also the chance that the x86_64 version of VLC migh
    • by zekica ( 1953180 )
      You could try adding ppa:mc3man/trusty-media. It worked for me.
      • by jma05 ( 897351 )

        Yes, worked for me too. Thanks.

        "intergrate video in interface" isn't working though. Had the same problem with nightlies too.

  • Dangit. Just when I get YouTube working well on my Amiga using HTML5 and H.264. But it pushes the CPU right to the edge. I haven't got a snowball's chance with VP9.

    Not on an 800 MHz 603e equivalent, anyway.

    *shakes tiny fist*

    (My especially weird hobby hardware aside, the CPU requirement increase does kinda suck.)

  • "it can now play silky smooth 720p with VP9.""

    Really? This is their selling point.

    It's dead, Jim. Time to join Buzz, Gears and the others.

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