Fraunhofer intros new H.266 VVC codec to rival AV1 and HEVC

Mike Wheatley

Video codec maker Fraunhofer HHI has announced the new H.266/Versatile Video Coding standard that promises to deliver 50% efficiency gains in streaming video compression.


The German company said H.266 VVC is meant to be a replacement for the existing H.264/Advanced Video Coding (AVC) and H.265/High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC) standards that are used by companies including Netflix and Amazon, as well as TVs made by LG, Samsung and Sony.

Fraunhofer says the new H.266 VVC codec is able to reduce the data required to stream video by “around 50 percent” compared to its rival standards, and that it does so without sacrificing on picture quality.

Moreover, the new codec could help to overcome the controversy around the HEVC standard, which has been the subject of numerous aggressive patent disputes from its various stakeholders since its release in 2013. AVC, the predecessor to HEVC, was first released in 2003 but remains the dominant standard due to those disputes.

Fraunhofer argues that almost every major hardware and software company that’s tied up in the disputes about the HEVC codecs’ patent royalty system can benefit from H.266 VVC, as it offers better performance without any of the licensing headaches.

It says that while HEVC requires 10GBs of data to transmit a 90-minute 4K resolution video, H.266 VVC can do the same using just 5GBs. Fraunhofer says it offers “equal perceptual quality”, which means the human eye won’t be able to perceive any difference in the overall quality of the stream.

It’s a “quantum leap in coding efficiency” that resulted from three years of work in cooperation with partners including Apple, Ericsson, Intel, Huawei, Microsoft, Qualcomm and Sony. The codec was developed with “ultra-high resolution video content in mind” that includes 4K, 8K, High Dynamic Range and 360-degree video.

As with HEVC however, the H.266/VVC standard won’t be free. Companies that wish to use it will have to pay a licensing fee, so it remains to be seen how widely adopted the standard will become.

The standard will face competition from the royalty-free AV1 open source video codec, which has been created by the Open Media Alliance. AV1 and its predecessor, VP9, are both widely used as methods to stream 4K content from platforms like YouTube.

The most likely scenario is that AV1, AVC, HEVC and VVC will also coexist for some time to come, but Fraunhofer is confident that its codec will win a big share of the market. It said the Media Coding Industry Forum, the official name for the consortium of companies that helped design H.266/VVC, is now working on chip designs to support the standard at the hardware level.

“This autumn Fraunhofer HHI will publish the first software (for both encoder and decoder) to support H.266/VVC,” said Thomas Schierl, head of the Video Coding and Analytics department at Fraunhofer HHI, in a statement.