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Cisco Working On Next-Generation Royalty-Free 'Thor' Video Codec

Cisco announced that it been working on a next-generation open source video codec, called Thor, that should sidestep all patent issues that current codecs such as the HEVC have presently.

Cisco complained that the HEVC patent issues have become a much bigger problem than they ever were for h.264 (for which Cisco has also released an open source implementation that Mozilla is currently using).

Right now, there are two patent pools, when there was only one for h.264, and it costs up to 16x more to license HEVC than it did for h.264. HEVC also doesn't have an upper limit on yearly licensing costs like h.264 did, which can make the use of HEVC exponentially more expensive than h.264 ever was.

To make things worse, many patent holders aren't even included in those pools, so there's the potential for lawsuits even when a company pays the royalties to the two existing patent pools.

There are other problems, such as not being able to use HEVC in any open source project, such as Mozilla's Firefox, or in freemium programs such as WebEx or Cisco Spark, which have free versions.

Mozilla has been working on its own next-generation video codec that's also open source and is meant to be royalty-free, called Daala. The company has already submitted it to the IETF, which is working on standardizing the next-generation video codec, called "NETVC," the same way it did with Opus, the current standard audio codec on the Web.

Cisco has submitted its codec to the IETF as well, so now either the two codecs will end up competing to become the standardized NETVC codec, or the IETF will pick the best pieces of both to create something new.

The goal here is not just to create a more efficient and higher-quality video codec than HEVC, but also one that won't have any patent issues in the future and can be freely used by anyone on the open Web or in hardware without worrying about lawsuits.

Right now, the only codec that comes close to this ideal is Google's open source VP9, but even Google had to pay MPEG-LA to relinquish any kind of patent infringement threats they were thinking of making against hardware or software makers that used the previous-generation VP8 codec.

Cisco has also put a team of lawyers and consultants in this area to ensure the new codec isn't infringing on any existing patents. The company has released the open source code at http://thor-codec.org, where it hopes others will come and contribute.

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  • JPNpower
    This stuff needs to come quickly.
    Reply
  • zanny
    You can actually already use dalaa if you go download it. Its in a workable state. It just isn't as optimized as they want it before their 1.0, and it is also ABI unstable.
    Reply
  • tom10167
    who pays for these codec things, and when? Like if I convert a video to h.264 am I supposed to be paying somebody? Sorry for the dumb questions.
    Reply
  • alextheblue
    Hope this is better than VP9. Otherwise, HEVC will continue its march towards dominance.
    Reply
  • Achoo22
    Whatever they add, it should be without DRM. Either publish your video on the web for people to digest in the way they feel best or don't, but don't try to control the way my PC handles downloading/streaming/displaying/etc. Honestly, I'd prefer a text-only web to one filled with videos that I may potentially not even be able to pause/rewind/skip etc.
    Reply
  • Achoo22
    who pays for these codec things, and when? Like if I convert a video to h.264 am I supposed to be paying somebody? Sorry for the dumb questions.
    AFAIK, it doesn't affect you unless you're creating encoders or decoders. This is why Windows may not play DVD/BluRay natively and why your Linux distro might require you to download third-party codecs in a separate, annoying way. Nobody wants to foot the bill. And, honestly, with so many quality codecs available for free there isn't much reason for it.
    Reply
  • Christopher1
    How about we just declare that HEVC is a de-facto standard and make it "Have to issue licenses at reasonable rate!".3 cents per copy sold sounds reasonable to me.
    Reply
  • Christopher1
    who pays for these codec things, and when? Like if I convert a video to h.264 am I supposed to be paying somebody? Sorry for the dumb questions.
    AFAIK, it doesn't affect you unless you're creating encoders or decoders. This is why Windows may not play DVD/BluRay natively and why your Linux distro might require you to download third-party codecs in a separate, annoying way. Nobody wants to foot the bill. And, honestly, with so many quality codecs available for free there isn't much reason for it.
    Quality? Nothing beats h.265 for HD quality content at the moment, even though it is not hardware accelerated on most systems as of yet.
    Reply
  • kenjitamura
    A group of patent owners for h.265 have banded together and are going to start extracting royalty payments so this Thor codec will be sorely needed.

    "HEVC Advance wants 0.5% of content owners attributable gross revenue for each HEVC Video type. To put in perspective how unjust and unfair their licensing terms are, they want 0.5% of Netflix, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and every other content owner/distributor’s revenue, as it pertains to HEVC usage. Considering that most content owners and distributors plan to convert all of their videos over time to use the new High Efficiency Video Coding compression standard, companies like Facebook, Netflix and others would have to pay over $100M a year in licensing payments."
    Reply
  • alextheblue
    How about we just declare that HEVC is a de-facto standard and make it "Have to issue licenses at reasonable rate!".3 cents per copy sold sounds reasonable to me.
    Quality? Nothing beats h.265 for HD quality content at the moment, even though it is not hardware accelerated on most systems as of yet.
    Agreed, HEVC is great, just need to get costs under control.

    A group of patent owners for h.265 have banded together and are going to start extracting royalty payments so this Thor codec will be sorely needed.

    "HEVC Advance wants 0.5% of content owners attributable gross revenue for each HEVC Video type. To put in perspective how unjust and unfair their licensing terms are, they want 0.5% of Netflix, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and every other content owner/distributor’s revenue, as it pertains to HEVC usage. Considering that most content owners and distributors plan to convert all of their videos over time to use the new High Efficiency Video Coding compression standard, companies like Facebook, Netflix and others would have to pay over $100M a year in licensing payments."

    To be fair Zuckerberg could probably POOP $100M. But even so the price is too high. Maybe instead of .5, .05? It would save these companies a lot of money in terms of bandwidth, which may offset a more reasonable licensing structure.
    Reply