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CES Feature Articles

January 03, 2014

Google to Show off YouTube in 4K UltraHD

Google (News - Alert) is headed to International CES 2014 with plans to show off YouTube streaming in the 4K UltraHD format. To go with this showcase of the next generation of video resolution, it has signed up several heavy-hitter hardware partners, including ARM, Broadcom, Intel, LG, Marvell, MediaTek, Nvidia, Panasonic, Philips, Qualcomm, RealTek, Samsung (News - Alert), Sigma, Sharp, Sony and Toshiba, to support its royalty-free VP9 compression standard.

Francisco Varela, Google’s global director for platform partnerships, said that the hope is for the manufacturers to build in native support for VP9 into their gear starting this year—everything from mobile phones to TVs and Blu-ray players. 

VP9 is the next iteration of the VP8 video compression standard, which was developed by On2 Technologies (News - Alert) (On2 was bought by Google in 2010). Google said that it is designed to deliver the same quality video as VP8 but at 50 percent of the bit-rate of either VP8 or the widely deployed H.264.

And that’s important because 4K UltraHD video takes high-end 1080p HD resolution for TV and quadruples it, and all of those extra pixels come with significant overhead: specifically, delivering 4K streams requires eight times the bandwidth of normal HD content, thus challenging pay-TV operators, broadcasters and over-the-top (OTT) providers to find ways to ensure Quality of Service while maintaining a cost-effective delivery structure.

Compression standards are thus widely seen as one key way to clear this (significant) obstacle. And while HEVC (H.265) is perhaps the most well-known codec for shrinking down bandwidth requirements for fat streams, Google is opting to instead embrace V9, announcing back in November that it would be throwing its weight behind VP9 for delivering content via YouTube (News - Alert)—including, eventually, UltraHD 4K content.

We should be careful not to look at this as a war of the codecs: Most of the vendors signed up with Google for VP9 already support HEVC or have plans to do so. Adding additional hardware support for alternative technologies simply gives consumers more access to 4K in the future by widening platform support within devices. So, a Blu-ray player that can decode, say, streams from Comcast (News - Alert) delivered with HEVC could also receive 4K from YouTube, without the need for any special activity or purchases on the part of the consumer. YouTube, given its size, has enough leverage to entice vendors into its fold—and that can be nothing but positive, ultimately, for end users.

Edited by Cassandra Tucker

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