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Google's VP9 video codec nearly done; YouTube will use it

One of the biggest video sites on the Net will use Google's next-generation video compression technology after it's fully defined on June 17.

Stephen Shankland principal writer
Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and writes about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
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Google plans to finish defining its VP9 video codec on June 17, providing a date on which the company will be able to start using the next-generation compression technology in Chrome and on YouTube.

"Last week, we hosted over 100 guests at a summit meeting for VP9, the WebM Project's next-generation open video codec. We were particularly happy to welcome our friends from YouTube, who spoke about their plans to support VP9 once support lands in Chrome," Matt Frost, senior business product manager for the WebM Project, said in a blog post Friday.

WebM is Google's project for freeing Web video from royalty constraints; the WebM technology at present combines VP8 with the Vorbis audio codec. Google unveiled WebM three years ago at the Google I/O show, but VP8 remains a relative rarity compared to today's dominant video codec, H.264.

Because VP9 transmits video more efficiently than the current VP8 codec, the move will be a major milestone for Google and potential Web-video allies such as Mozilla that hope to see royalty-free video compression technology spread across the Web. However, even VP8 is still dogged by a patent-infringement concern from Nokia, and VP9 hasn't yet run the intellectual property gauntlet.

Those using H.264 must pay patent royalties, and its successor, HEVC aka H.265, follows the same model.

H.265 is more efficient than H.264, offering comparable video quality at half the number of bits per second, and Google and its allies hope to bring a similar performance boost going from the current VP8 codec to VP9. That could help with mobile devices with bad network connections and could cut network costs for those with streaming-video expenses.

The VP9 bitstream definition, which describes how video is compressed into a stream of data so it can be transmitted efficiently over a network, has been in beta testing for a week, Frost said.

Paul Wilkins, a Google codec engineer, detailed the final schedule for the VP9 bitstream definition Thursday in a mailing list post.

WebM will be updated to accommodate the new video codec and a new audio codec called Opus, too, said another Google employee, Lou Quillio.

"The existing WebM container will be extended to allow VP9 and Opus streams," Quillio said on the mailing list.