Outlook: VVC technology enabling better & cheaper 4K video
Tony Jones
Issue: November/December 2023

Outlook: VVC technology enabling better & cheaper 4K video

People watch more content when it’s good quality. That means more advertising dollars and more service stickiness — both highly desirable attributes. Delivering great quality video using a finite bandwidth is where compression comes in: more modern codecs and better encoders allow a better user experience without increasing the bitrate (and cost of delivery) or keeping it the same but for less delivery cost. Versatile Video Encoding (VVC) is the latest codec to achieve international standardization, opening the door to better experiences.

There is a well-trodden path for codec adoption: standardization, experiments, consumer silicon and then wide-scale service adoption. We’re at ‘stage 3’ of this with VVC: it’s well on the way to being present on many consumer devices, from smart TVs to mobile phones.

The step change in encoding efficiency brought by VVC makes delivering all forms of UHD much more practical and cost-effective, potentially reducing the bitrate by as much as 40 percent compared to HEVC. Of course, this is not instantly achieved in the first iterations of real encoders, but the potential is clear and proven.

There are several 8K TVs available, and, in the same way that all 4K TVs are now HEVC capable, the latest 8K TVs typically come with VVC – and fairly soon that will become table stakes. VVC is essential for keeping bitrates reasonable for 8K – a handful of pilot services exist. Still, even for 4K, the benefits may be useful in some cases, for example, where services are yet to launch, including VVC decode capability in the STBs for streaming could be beneficial for making UHD experiences great and for keeping Content Delivery Network (CDN) costs lower. Once VVC is available, it can be used for more than just the highest resolution.

Of course, there are other codecs out in the wild, including AV1, but none is as efficient as VVC. So, where do we end up? Ultimately, it will take a few years for HEVC to be more widely used than H.264, but it is just a matter of time. Similarly, VVC is entering the picture while HEVC is still increasingly available. The net result is that it is likely that the most popular services will be available to be streamed using multiple codecs: H.264, HEVC and VVC, based on their relative population availability. Streaming devices already know what they can support and select the right profiles that match their capabilities, so this becomes a transition of user numbers rather than a cut-over of technology. Using VVC can result in better videos for the same bitrate. Simple as that!

Tony Jones is Principal Technologist at MediaKind (www.mediakind.com), which offers software-centric, cloud-native solutions that enable high-quality media experiences that are accessible to all across linear, on-demand, and OTT services.