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RedShark's Dave Shapton Live on Teradek's NAB show
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09 Mar 2017

Google is getting aggressive with its VP9 4K video format

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Newly uploaded 4K videos, such as this one from the Slow Mo Guys, no longer play at 4K in Safari Newly uploaded 4K videos, such as this one from the Slow Mo Guys, no longer play at 4K in Safari The Slow Mo Guys

Google recently fired another broadside in its ongoing feud with Apple, refusing now to support YouTube through Safari unless Apple adopts the company’s new VP9 4K video format.

The current state of the art is H.264, with H.265 HEVC on the horizon to become the heir apparent for ultra high definition streams. Up until now, Google has indulged Apple users by supporting both MPEG4 and VP9 for streaming of YouTube video. Google claims that VP9 has the advantage of performing up to 50% better as a compression format, but being that Apple is heavily invested in H.265 HEVC, it refuses to support the open source alternative.

But now Google wants to ramp up adoption of its rival VP9 format and, in an attempt to force Apple's hand, Google will no long allow Safari users to stream YouTube until Apple supports it. “[We will focus on] delivering the best 4K experience exclusively through VP9,” said Mariana De Felice, Global Communications at YouTube, in an interview with Streamingmedia.com. VP9 is supported in other main browsers, including Chrome, Firefox and Microsoft's new EDGE.

It’s unclear whether Google is earnestly trying to push VP9 because it is open source, or if it is engaging in a little payback with Apple since Cupertino removed YouTube from iOS back in 2012, and took it off older AppleTVs in 2015. It is, after all, rather convenient that the issue is over YouTube again now.

But Google may also be trying to push the whole state of affairs over ultra high definition streaming. Widescale adoption of H.265 has been stalled up until recently due to licensing issues, and many have become content with staying with H.264 and its open source rival MP4 in the interim.

Cameras are only now starting to offer the HEVC option, and Google seems to think it's an opportunity to push VP9 exclusively to force the issue, and get a foot in the door for iOS and AppleTV. It's a cagey strategy.

Choices for Mac users who want to watch YouTube are to abandon the Safari browser and adopt its rival Chrome, or one of the other alternatives. This could also be the REAL reason why Google is pushing VP9 in YouTube: to get more Safari users to use Chrome, so that Google can track their surfing activity. Google is first and foremost in the information business, and as such, benefits more from users relying on Chrome to watch 4K cat videos in YouTube.

Google and Apple may be fighting a pyrrhic battle, however, since there's an alliance of companies including Netflix, AMD, Cisco, Microsoft, Nvidia and Intel working on yet another next generation streaming alternative.

And here's the video of the Slow Mo guys in action. Happily it looks fairly impressive in HD, but even so...


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