Which codecs can your device play? The way we play and watch video has continued to change and improve over the years, depending on our device type and how that codec affects the available internet in the location we are streaming from. It’s likely your device is able to stream H.264/AVC, which has been an industry standard for a while now, but you might not be so familiar with the others. Through this blog, we’re going to explain why VVC – an emerging codec – is important and what we’ve learned through working with it.
Versatile Video Coding (VVC) is a codec that was made to help reduce bitrates without compromising video quality. As a result, VVC offers a number of benefits to video streaming, including:
- Efficient streaming of demanding content, including UHD (8k+) and 360 video
- Lower distribution costs due to the lower bitrate
- Maintaining high visual quality even on slower networks
As the benefits sound extremely promising, we’ve taken to encode streams in VVC, which you can read more about in our previous article. Until now, however, there have been limited playback implementations from device makers, making it difficult to see the true gains. Due to this, we believe it’s equally important to evaluate the state of playback on different devices and advancement in playback technology because, ultimately, if you can encode VVC but can’t play it back, then viewers & streaming services don’t get to experience the full value of the codec.
What devices support VVC now and will in the future?
As VVC is a new codec standard, no device currently has hardware support for it, and only a limited number of devices can software decode it in real time. In our testing, we found that high and mid-end devices usually have enough processing power to play 1080p VVC videos such as Google Pixel 5 or Samsung Galaxy S8. Researchers from Ericsson presented similar findings at the NAB show, also sharing that they needed to use AMD EPYC or Intel Xeon servers for 8K playback testing, which shows how important hardware decoding will be for UHD VVC content.
Even though the current device ecosystem that can decode VVC is limited, with the net gains VVC is projected to offer, it will definitely be a priority addition for device makers in the coming versions of their devices.
In the future, VVC is expected to be supported in devices such as:
- Smartphones and tablets (Samsung, Apple, Huawei, + more)
- Smart TVs (LG, Samsung, Sony, + more)
- Streaming devices (Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, + more)
- Recent computers and laptops
*sidenote for future Smart TV’s above – LG 8K models officially support VVC already.
How did we test VVC in an actual streaming environment?
To evaluate VVC playback, we teamed up with the Fraunhofer Heinrich-Hertz-Institut (HHI) to integrate their software-based decoder VVdeC. You can check out VVdeC on GitHub.
We’ve integrated the VVC decoder into an internal version of our Android demo app to evaluate VVC playback on a range of streams and devices. This demo implementation has allowed us to test the decode performance on a variety of devices, for example, low-end, mid-tier, and high-end models. As optimizations are gradually made to the decoding, we will continue expanding our evaluation progress and share that with video developers. Ultimately we believe this will help streaming video apps decide whether VVC is a suitable codec for their audience and the devices where their content is streamed.
Homepage of the Bitmovin Android Application testing VVC
The Bitmovin Player on the Bitmovin Android demo application testing VVC
What have we learned?
Firstly, we must say the integration of VVdeC was a smooth process. It took approximately 3 days to achieve the first video playback, and from there, we rolled the implementation into an internal version of our Android demo app. We evaluated the viewer experience offered by VVC with our findings below.
To test the VVC low bitrate performance. We encoded the same assets in both VVC and HEVC at the same bitrate of 470, 350, and 207 kb/s using Bitmovin Encoder. Upon playback on Android devices, we compared the performance and image quality of the streams. VVC is a clear winner in fast scenes without motion blur. For example, in the explosion frame below (from Charge), VVC shows less aliasing and much more detail, especially in the bullet ricochet that spans only 3 frames and is brightly visible during playback. The difference:
Explosion frame comparison between HEVC (left) and VVC (right) at 470 kb/s
While evaluating the implementation, it became clear that software-based decoding requires greater CPU performance and increases memory consumption. This finding is partly due to the emerging nature of VVC, and the current implementations aren’t optimized for processing efficiency. As a result, we used a Samsung Galaxy S8 tablet to achieve smooth playback and showcased it in our demo booth at NAB 2023.
Now that we’ve tested Playback with Android-powered tablets and phones, we intend to further our evaluation of VVC playback on other devices that are in widespread use. For example, Android-based TVs. As we found performance to be challenging at this stage on lower-powered devices, we hope to identify optimizations to improve performance. Clearly, this will be driven by the advantages of having bitrate savings at comparable qualities that are seen when using other codecs.
We’re continuing our VVC research and collaboration with Fraunhofer and have a joint research paper that will be presented later this year at IBC2023. We will share more details as soon as the conference makes them publicly available.
Further, we’re also looking into emerging audio codecs which sit alongside video codec innovations like VVC. This includes technologies such as MPEG-H. You can read more about MPEG-H from Fraunhofer’s Institute for Integrated Circuits (IIS) group.
Want to know more?
If you’re interested in learning more, you can always ask a question on the Bitmovin Community, and we’d be happy to speak further about the demo we showcased at NAB 2023.
Check out this presentation from Mile High Video 2022 on our collaboration with Fraunhofer to bring their VVenC encoder to the cloud.
Bitmovin’s Chief Architect Igor Oreper will be speaking at the Streaming Media East conference on May 17 as part of the session VVC: Ready For Action? A Comprehensive Guide To Deployment & Implementation, which is sure to be valuable for anyone considering VVC.