YouTube rolls out VP9 encoding to boost video speeds

The video streaming website says the open-source codec will allow for 4K streaming at up to half the bandwidth cost.

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YouTube has begun rolling out VP9 codec support to videos uploaded to the website to improve video compression and speed.

The Google-owned company announced the changes on Monday. Google says the added support is in response to consumers watching more higher-quality footage across devices including PCs, mobile devices and consoles, and therefore creating the need for tech companies to supply the means for high-quality streams to be watched with better bandwidth efficiency.

To watch any kind of video content, from DVDs to .MP4s, computer systems need to pull on codecs in order to convert the data into images. VP9 is one of the newest types of codec; an open-source variant developed between Google and WebM. With the emergence of 4K television sets -- which demand support for resolutions four times higher than HD -- codecs need to be developed to keep up.

The codec prioritizes the sharpest image features and uses asymmetric transforms to help keep even the most challenging scenes looking crisp and block-free. Additional improvements mean that bandwidth is not abused, and by cutting bitrates in as much as half, VP9 videos can often be watched without buffering or increased cost.

According to the Santa Clara, Calif.-based firm, in the last year alone, over 25 billion hours of VP9 footage has been watched by consumers on YouTube. Google says without the codec's support, billions of which would have to have been watched in HD format as the bandwidth costs of VP9 video would have been too high.

The company said:

"At larger video sizes, VP9 actually gets even more efficient than its predecessors, so uninterrupted 4K content can now be streamed by a significant and growing part of the YouTube audience. The amount of 4K video uploaded to YouTube has more than tripled in the past year, and VP9 helps us plan for improved streaming into the future."

VP9 support is already available in the Chrome web browser and in selected Android devices including the Samsung Galaxy S6, as well as through a number of game consoles. Google says over 20 device partners are planning to launch products in 2015 and beyond which support and use the open-source codec.

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