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Keynote Speech – Changing the Future of Codec Technology for RTC with AV1 by Debargha Mukherjee

At the AllThingsRTC conference, Agora.io proudly hosted numerous speakers who addressed some of the latest industry developments in their businesses, pointing out advancements in RTC services and platforms as well as the challenges posed by ongoing RTC performance needs.

Several talks tackled the issue of the AV1 codec, where it came from, and how it might be positioned to launch a greater evolution in how real-time communications are offered alongside the video on demand (VOD) services. In particular, the opening keynote speech by Debargha Mukherjee, the principal software engineer at Google, gave an expansive overview of AV1.

The importance of AV1 is critical in the junction of RTC and VOD offerings, as video is drastically changing how internet tech is evolving. The video tech landscape is shifting faster than ever, and rapid advances in video compression tech are essential to cope with ongoing explosion in internet video demands. A few points of evidence of this include projection that, by 2021:

  • 82% of all internet traffic will be video
  • 50% increase of video on demand
  • 15X growth in live video
  • Every second, 1 million minutes of video will cross the network

The Outdated Refresh Cycle

Debargha made the point that the traditional 10-year codec refresh cycle driven by hardware isn’t enough to keep up with this growth. Instead, software-based codecs are more easily deployed (letting hardware support catch up on a case-by-case basis).

He pointed out AV1’s beginnings back in 2010, with Google’s establishment of the WebM project, to develop royalty-free formats for the web. One of the results, VP9, becoming the first real challenger to MPEG codec. 

Formation of AOM

Then, in 2015, the Alliance for Open Media (AOM) was formed as a collaborative, cross-industry effort to build royalty-free codecs and promote a royalty-free ecosystem. Now with 42 members throughout the video streaming and RTC service marketplace, AOM produced its first video codec, AV1, with the goal of 30% bitrate reduction over VP9 with royalty-free tech.

AV1 is currently the most advanced royalty-free video codec from AOM, and external adoption continues to gain steam with large improvements in encoding speed and performance made daily. It’s used in Chrome, Firefox, and Edge apps, as well as Chrome, Windows, and Linux OS, showing that it’s in the early stages of global industry adoption. 

AOM’s continued focus is establishing a 5-year refresh push for AV2 to come out in 2023 and achieve at least a 25-30% gain over AV1. 

This includes:

  • Better prediction modes
  • Improved non-translational motion models
  • In-loop restoration for coding
  • Learned neural network-based compression

In the end, it was clear that, while codec technology has been evolving quickly, for RTC, it remains about a generation behind. Organizations like Google are working hard to change the process of codec standardization and development to shorten the deployment turnaround while finding ways to serve RTC needs explicitly.