Google wants to make 4K video even leaner over the web, working on development of VP10

by on August 31, 2015

Stephan Jukic – August 31, 2015

4K video that gets streamed across the web or moved from one device to another via HDMI needs compression in order to flow smoothly and as the format grows ever more popular, all doubt as to its near-future dominance is fading away. Thus, players like YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Prime Instant Video and others are both supporting it and making sure that they can keep those video streams they deliver in ultra HD flowing smoothly.

This is where compression codecs like the patent protected HEVC and the open source, free-to-use VP9 from Google come into the picture. They are what lubricates the flow of 4K video with elaborate and very similar raw video compression algorithms that reduce the bandwidth needed for transmitting ultra HD content down by major percentages and make delivery of such video manageable over internet connections of 15 to 25 Mbps.

However, for Google, this isn’t enough and the company is already well into the development stages of creating a new, more powerful version of their existing VP9 4K compression codec. This new version is called (surprise!) VP10 and has been in the works for roughly a year now.

According to the somewhat limited details that Google has given about its effectiveness over VP9, the newer codec will halve the bandwidth required for 4K video of equal quality from what is required with VP9. VP9 itself halved the needed bandwidth for video of a given load from what was required to send the same load of video through the older, HD video-based H.264 codec, which isn’t even used for 4K videos.

Speaking in an interview with, Google product manager James Bankoski explained that VP9 will also provide sharper images, superior color and a much broader dynamic range between light and dark segments of video. In other words, the new codec is being developed with the next generation of 4K content in mind –with expanded color gamuts and HDR-quality levels of contrast.

The existing VP9 codec being used for PC 4K content

The existing VP9 codec being used for PC 4K content

Nonetheless, the potential dominance of VP10 is far from guaranteed and to give a starkly broad picture of where exactly it in fact stands: For the time being, the vast majority of content streamed across the web to the majority of devices gets compressed with the much older H.264 HEVC codec and a smaller percentage of content is compressed via H.265, the overwhelming majority of it being 4K video, in which H.265 is the dominant codec. VP9 itself only covers a fraction of the total compression needs of digital content and VP10 is nothing but a project for the time being.

Despite this very weak position, VP10 could indeed still become the most widely used video compression format. Google’s own YouTube will definitely adopt VP10 as soon as its becomes the new Google compression standard and the fact that VP10, like its predecessor, is open source lends further strength to the codec. Licensing for HEVC is only getting more expensive and complicated for services and companies that want to use it, Both VP9 and VP10 could very easily start to look like much more attractive alternatives.

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