AV1 adoption is ready for take-off

Audio & video coding / decoding
June 21, 2024

With major advances in both software and hardware decoding in past months, the format could soon see greater deployment by streamers

By Valentina Piola

It has been a long road to widespread AV1 adoption since the specification was issued in 2018.

Developed by the Alliance for Open Media (AOM), the format was designed to make online video streaming more efficient by delivering high-quality video with low bitrates, fast coding and bandwidth savings.

With the backing of AOM members Apple, Arm, Cisco, Facebook, Google, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Mozilla and Netflix, there was significant industry weight behind AV1. However, several important barriers have prevented its widespread deployment.

One of the biggest obstacles has been the lack of decoding support on user devices, particularly smartphones, which account for a large share of streaming activity (over 60% of YouTube views come from mobile devices). Through 2023, only a small percentage of smartphones had hardware or software capable of decoding AV1 videos.

That situation is starting to change.

Apple adds hardware support for AV1

Apple made a significant splash in September 2023 when the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max were announced as the company’s first smartphones with AV1 hardware decoding support. Over the next two quarters, AV1 hardware support in smartphones increased from less than 3% of all devices to more than 8%.

AV1 Hardware Decode Chart

Source: AV1 Codec Hardware Decode Adoption | ScientiaMobile

Shortly afterward, Apple announced that its M3 series of processors would also come equipped with AV1 hardware decoders. That means future generations of Macbooks and Mac desktop computers will support AV1 playback as well.

Android adopts AV1 software decoding

Although hardware support is seen as the optimal solution for device-based AV1 viewing, significant recent progress has also been made with software-based decoding.

VideoLAN, the organisation behind the VLC media player, was tasked with developing an efficient AV1 decoding software by AOM in 2018. The resulting decoder, dubbed dav1d, has dramatically improved decoding performance in terms of power and computing efficiency.

In March 2024, Google added the dav1d software to most Android devices – all those running Android 12 or later. This means that streaming platforms can serve video content to Android devices in the AV1 format, without too much concern about draining users’ batteries or tying up computing power. It was reported in April that Google’s YouTube was among the apps now serving AV1 content to Android users by default (though some reports question whether that is still the case).

Early days

AV1’s market penetration is still well behind some of the competing codecs, but recent months have demonstrated significant promise. Now that AV1 decoding capability can be found in new high-end iPhone models and most Android devices, it will be interesting to see whether major streaming services begin to shift toward the format. New applications of AV1 are also emerging in new areas such as specialised chips for video gaming.

AV1 represents years of investment in video coding innovation. The technology behind AV1 is covered by a multitude of patents from various leading innovators in the video coding industry. Sisvel offers a comprehensive licensing solution through a pool of 20 patent holders, simplifying access to the AV1 patent landscape. This streamlined approach has successfully enhanced efficiency.

A number of industry players share an interest in seeing greater AV1 deployment. The Sisvel team will continue to monitor this space closely to track the progress of this technology.

Valentina Piola is the programme manager of Sisvel's Video Coding Platform

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