More efficient codecs are needed to keep pace with the onslaught of video, but rollout is being buried under inertia, red tape and vested interest.
That’s the view of Micky Minhas, SVP at Marconi and a Professor of Intellectual Property at UNH Franklin Pierce School of Law. He calls out the streaming and cloud giants as culprits.
As recent surveys have shown, the industry is entrenched in outmoded compression technologies such as Advanced Video Coding (AVC or H.264). Despite the availability of new and better compression schemes like Versatile Video Coding (VVC / H.266) deployment is sluggish.
This will not only impact negatively on the ability to get new higher resolution data demanding services to market but will actively harm the planet.
“Enabling more video streaming to use hyper-efficient VVC could save billions of tonnes of carbon each year,” Minhas writes in IP business media platform IAM. “Better compression will mean lower demands on cloud computing data centers, which mostly rely on fossil fuel power to ensure reliability. It could also reduce the need for semiconductors, which have overtaken auto as one of the world’s worst polluting industries.”
There is a solution. Next-gen codecs like VVC are proven to be twice as efficient as AVC. So why isn’t it happening? The ubiquity of AVC is partly because billions of older devices for streaming video can only support AVC decoding, but that doesn’t explain it all.
“The truth is that intellectual property and licensing failures are holding back the adoption of newer, better codecs,” argues Minhas. “Current patent pools are disaggregated and generally license one standard at a time, meaning that any device or service needing to work across multiple standards will need several licenses.”
They also tend to focus all licensing efforts on the consumer product manufacturers, so that the cost is not borne fairly across the ecosystem, he says. Cloud and streaming services are big beneficiaries of codec technologies. Newer, better codecs dramatically reduce their storage requirements and provide ultra-high resolution videos without buffering or latency issues, enhancing the services that they charge users to watch or sell advertisements around.
“At present, these companies are not contributing to the cost of the codec technologies they rely on,” Minhas says.
Many or most existing IP licensing organizations and pools also have an impartiality problem, he insists. “A heritage of being owned by or closer to licensees or licensors, or simply having one side more in control of revenues and rules of engagement, makes it impossible to agree on the impartial, balanced terms that the industry needs to move forward.”
Minhas calls for a new approach to video licensing, one which more accurately reflects how codecs are used now, rather than how they were used twenty years ago.
“It should have the potential to encompass multiple standards and avoid stacking multiple royalties. It should license at multiple points in the video encoding, decoding and transcoding ecosystem that are realizing value from video coding standards, including streaming and cloud-based services, and not just end user devices. It should also be independently managed, open to companies from across the video ecosystem, and balance the needs of licensees and licensors.”
It may already be too late. The codec market is fragmenting with adoption of the VVC standard at risk even before it enters the marketplace. The evidence from the HEVC experience is clear — continued fragmentation in licensing will likely be a significant barrier to wide acceptance of the VVC standard.