Google and Mozilla recently added AV1 support to the developmental versions of their browsers. The implementation appears in builds of Chrome 69 and Firefox 63 with the addition of the #enable-av1-decoder flag and media.av1.enabled preference respectively.
For now the feature is disabled by default and will need to be manually enabled in order for the AV1 support to function. As Google noted on its Developers site, the current implementation of AV1 support is limited to decoding content for playback and does not include encoding capabilities.
The addition of AV1 support to Chrome and Firefox ties in with Phase 2 of the AV1 adoption roadmap. Considering the format was only recently released, its progress has been rapid – driven by the fact that many tech giants are part of the Alliance for Open Media (AOMedia) consortium that developed AV1.
Seeing as Google and Mozilla are both members of AOMedia, it is not surprising that they are quickly adopting AV1 onto their browsers. Other members of the consortium are also involved in AV1’s adoption, including Netflix, Microsoft, Amazon, and many more.
Recently Google also unveiled an AV1 Beta Launch Playlist on YouTube to test the format and its performance, and Netflix released a test of its own. In conjunction with the AV1 support on Chrome and Firefox, the tests make it possible to watch online streaming videos encoded using AV1.
Initial results of AV1 tests seem to be promising. The format is meant to have far better compression rates than the H.264 standard that is currently widely utilized, and beats its successor H.265 (HEVC) by a significant margin as well. The only criticism leveled at it so far is that encoding is slower, but that may improve once hardware support is factored into the equation.
While there is no official date for when AV1 support will make its way onto the official releases of Chrome and Firefox, it normally doesn’t take very long. Already Google has indicated that it eventually plans to launch AV1 support on all desktop versions of Chrome.
Hardware support for AV1 encoding and decoding isn’t expected till sometime in 2019 to 2020 based on the adoption roadmap. In the meantime it is expected that other software tools will start to support the format first. For example if and when Movavi Video Converter supports it, converting to AV1 will be no different than learning how to convert VOB to MP4.
The main challenge for AV1 will be whether it can successfully supplant H.264 as the preferred format used by most online platforms. Originally it was expected that H.265 would eventually replace it, but its adoption has been slow and stymied by its complex royalty and licensing structure.
To this day support for H.265 in browsers is limited, and most have shown no indication of including it. In that sense AV1 already has a slight edge over H.265, and considering Google (i.e. YouTube), Facebook, Netflix, Amazon, and other platforms plan on utilizing AV1, its adoption will certainly be accelerated.
A successor to H.265 is already on the works and is known as FVC. It is only slated to be released in 2021 however, at which point AV1 should already be fully adopted per its roadmap.
All in all AV1 seems to be on course, and barring any unexpected issues will very likely be able to supplant H.264 over the next few years. The fact that it is open-source and royalty-free makes it an appealing alternative to H.265, which is unlikely to be able to compete with it unless it revamps its licensing structure.