Google plans to force future Android TV devices to support AV1 codec

Mike Wheatley

Google is reportedly going to require that any new device that runs its Android TV 10 operating system will need built-in support for the AV1 codec.


Android TV Guide reported that any new TV, set-top box or other device launched after March 31 that wants to use Android TV 10, will need to equip an AV1 decoder that’s built-in at the processor level. The report dates back to last year, but it was only picked up by most mainstream media sources this week.

Although it wasn’t explicitly stated, it seems that the requirement will be for new devices only. That’s the logical assumption to make anyway, given that Google’s new Chromecast with Google TV dongle, which doesn’t support AV1, was the first device to be based on Android 10. Otherwise, it would mean Chromecast with Google TV will never receive an Android update, which seems highly unlikely given its recent release.

It would also mean that no existing TVs or devices that currently run Android TV 9 would ever see an update again, and that’s something that would likely create a fair amount of uproar if true. It's simply not possible to deliver support for AV1 via a firmware upgrade to older devices.

For the uninitiated, AV1 is a relatively new codec backed by a host of big tech firms, including Google and also Amazon, Apple, Facebook, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Mozilla and Netflix. Those companies are all members of the Alliance for Open Media, which maintains the development of AV1 as an open format for decoding SD, HD, 4K, HDR and 8K video content.

AV1 is said to provide substantial performance improvements over older video compression technologies, including the H.265 HEVC standard that was first envisioned as a successor to H.264. AV1 also uses significantly less power than other codecs, according to its proponents. The other main benefit of AV1 is that it’s royalty-free, meaning that all of the companies behind its development have agree to licence their patents to anyone to use. That’s different to HEVC, which is a patented codec that companies must pay to use.

Google has previously implemented AV1 for some content on YouTube, and it also requires AV1 support for all 8K content hosted on that site. Netflix also serves some content using AV1 to compatible Android mobile devices and says that it will eventually roll out the codec on all of its platforms.

It remains to be seen how Google’s new policy will affect brands that use the Android TV platform going forward. Sony, which announced several new Google TVs at the Consumer Electronics Show last month, has already said that those models will come with an AV1 decoder built-in, but it’s not clear if the new Google TVs that TCL is promising to launch later this year will also be future-proofed in the same way.