New encoding format will cut video file size in half without losing ultra-high-def resolution

Developed by the same group behind MPEG-3, H.264, and H.265, this new global video coding standard is live now, but don't expect to benefit from it anytime soon.

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Image: Fraunhofer HHI

There's a new standard for encoding video in town, and it is reportedly able to reduce file sizes by 50%. 

The new format was developed by Fraunhofer HHI, the same firm that created MPEG-3, H.264, and H.265, the three previous generations of video encoding standards. The latest is known as H.266 Versatile Video Coding (VVC), and was developed over the past three years with industry partners including Apple, Huawei, Microsoft, Intel, and Qualcomm. 

H.264 and H.265, Fraunhofer said in a statement, remain active on over 10 billion devices around the world, and account for 90% of the total global volume of video transmitted over the internet. 

Unfortunately, the era of their practical usefulness is coming to an end, and it's largely their own fault for being universally accepted as the standard way to compress and encode video. Online video comprises more than 80% of internet traffic, with websites like Netflix alone eating up 15% of internet traffic, and YouTube consuming another 11%. 

The concerns over bottlenecks due to so much video being transmitted online are nothing new, and with the advent of widespread HD and UHD video online those concerns can only grow. H.264 and H.265 may have been good for their moments, but H.266 is needed now in order for the video market to continue to grow.

"Because of the quantum leap in coding efficiency offered by H.266/VVC, the use of video will increase further worldwide. Moreover, the increased versatility of H.266/VVC makes its use more attractive for a broader range of applications related to the transmission and storage of video," said Benjamin Bross, head of the Video Coding Systems group at Fraunhofer HHI.

To get an idea of how effective VVC may be at reducing video traffic on the internet it's important to know what kind of compression it's replacing. H.265 uses 10GB of data to stream a 90-minute UHD movie. H.266 reduces that to only 5GB, a 50% improvement (H.265 itself was a 50% improvement over H.264).

Fraunhofer said that H.266/VVC was developed with ultra-high definition video in mind, and that means it's not only ideal for streaming high-quality movies, but also for 360-degree video and real-time screenshares. 

Don't get too excited about smoother streaming with VVC yet, though: The chips in current devices aren't able to use it, which means there will be a wait for hardware design cycles to catch up, software to accept H.266/VVC as the new standard, and video hosting companies to start encoding videos in the new format.

Fraunhofer said that the chips needed to support H.266 are now in development, and that "Fraunhofer HHI will publish the first software (for both encoder and decoder) to support H.266/VVC" in fall 2020, said Thomas Schierl, head of the Video Coding and Analytics department at Fraunhofer HHI.

In other words, be prepared to wait for a bit to see what this new video encoding format can do. 

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