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IETF Begins Standardization Process For Next-Generation 'NETVC' Video Codec (Daala)

Daala progress vs HEVC

After the widely adopted h.264/AVC video codec and its open source VP8 competitor from Google, we're seeing the next-generation h.265/HEVC and VP9 video codecs adopted in more hardware. Two years ago, though, work began on what was at the time a "next next-generation" open source video codec called Daala.

Daala has already been under development by Mozilla and Xiph, the non-profit organization behind the Ogg container format and the Vorbis audio codec. Xiph also worked on what later became the Opus codec, which was standardized by the IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force). Opus got implemented in all browsers that support the WebRTC protocol for live video conferences over the web; thus, Xiph and the IETF already have some experience in getting codecs widely adopted.

Just as the IETF took Google's SPDY protocol and turned it into the HTTP/2 standard, IETF seems to be trying to do the same with Daala and turn it into the NETVC video codec standard. Much like Daala, NETVC seems to have largely the same main goals. The IETF wants it to be:

Optimized for real-time communications over the public InternetCompetitive with or superior to existing modern codecsViewed as having IPR licensing terms that allow for wide implementation and deployment

The web has been beholden for quite some time to proprietary patent-encumbered technologies such as h.264. This hasn't been as big of an issue as it could have been, because MPEG-LA, the group that owns the h.264 and HEVC patents, has only asked browser vendors and hardware companies to pay royalties, but not regular Internet users or small sites that put videos up.

Even so, the web has always evolved at a faster rate when using open patent-free technologies, and it would be ideal if the same spirit was maintained for any future web technologies.

One of the ways IETF wants NETVC to go beyond even HEVC in terms of efficiency and performance is by making sure that it's highly parallel and works well, not just with multiple CPU cores, but also with SIMD/GPU hardware.

Although the codec will eventually be supported in hardware, it can take many years to achieve ubiquity. Therefore, the IETF wants the codec to work well enough even on existing hardware in the software mode, until the dedicated hardware decoders arrive in future chips.

The Daala project was already showing great progress, but it was far from finished. Now that the IETF is taking over, it's likely going to take at least another year or two until the codec is ready to be pushed into the market. If by then NETVC manages to be so far ahead of other video codecs in terms of efficiency, then the video codec will see more adoption by browser vendors and hardware makers on its merit, without the IETF having to do too much convincing.

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Lucian Armasu
Lucian Armasu is a Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware US. He covers software news and the issues surrounding privacy and security.