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What Is An AV1 Decoder and Why You Should Care?

Posted by Kaylee Wood | Last update: June 10, 2020

The most successful codecs in history are MPEG-2 and H.264, the former is widely used as the codec of digital television signals, and the latter is the most widely used codec on the planet. However, both of the codecs are mainly designed for Broadcast and are less specialized in Streaming. Now, streaming media has surpassed traditional broadcasting and will soon take its place, so a new format, AV1 was invented and come into view.

Latest news: NVIDIA’s GeForce RTX™ 30 Series GPUs has added AV1 hardware decoding support, Windows 10 will get AV1 Hardware-accelerated video support this fall and AMD RX 6000 Series GPUs will also support the AV1 Codec.

5KPlayer - Best Free Multimedia Player with Built-in AV1 Decoder

In the latest version, this ideal freeware 5KPlayer with AV1 codec supported grasps a way to access AV1 playback on any Windows PC and Mac. You do not need extra av1 codec pack or extension to enable the AV1 video decoding. Just download 5KPlayer with AV1 hardware decoding support to come, and learn the easiest way that offers you the possibility to enjoy funny AV1 videos on computer.

AV1 Player

Main Contents:
1. Wiki: What Is AV1 Codec?
2. What Is Decoder and Why We Need It?
3. AV1 vs. HEVC
4. How Do I Play AV1?
5. How to Play AV1 Video with 5KPlayer?

What Is AV1 codec?

AV1 is the abbreviation for "Alliance for Open Media Video 1", which is an open source and royalty-free video codec developed by AOM (Alliance for Open Media). It is the object of the invention to become the new generation of leading royalty-free coding standards and correct the shortage of H.265, such as expensive patent fees and complex licensing issues.

Note: AOM (AOMedia) is a non-profit industry consortium for the development of open. This alliance was established in 2015 by semiconductor companies, video-on-demand suppliers and web browser developers, and members of AOM now include Amazon, Apple, Cisco, Google, Intel, Microsoft, Mozilla, Netflix, AMD, ARM and NVIDIA.

The realization of AV1 absorbs some of the characteristics of Daala (a video codec developed by the Xiph.Org Foundation) and Thor (a royalty free video codec developed by Cisco Systems), but most of its codecs come from VP10. The basic version of AV1 codec supports 10-bit and 12-bit encoding as the Digital representation of Rec.2020.

AOM allows for a reasonable increase in coding complexity and aims to improve the compression performance of AV1 by 50% compared to VP9/HEVC. Also, due to its excellent compression ability, AV1 is mainly going to be used in UHD video playback for it is able to play 4K video with faster frame rate, higher bit rate, wider gamut on a fairly fast computer, as well as providing codec support for WebRTC (real-time communication).

What Is Decoder and Why We Need It?

To play any video on the internet, it needs to go through the following steps: protocol parsing, format decapsulating, video audio codec decoding, and video audio synchronization. To play video on a local drive, you do not need to parse the protocol, but the other steps are still necessary. And decoding is the most important and complicated part in the whole procedure.

process of video playback

Decoder, as its name implies, is a device or a program to decode the encoded video or audio data into its original format. The popular formats of video include H.264, MPEG2, HEVC, AV1, etc., and audio formats include AAC, MP3, AC-3, etc. By decoding, the compressed video data is output into uncompressed color data, such as YUV420P, RGB, etc., and the compressed audio data is output into uncompressed audio sampled data, such as PCM data.

Therefore, a decoder is very important because we need it to process video and audio once we want to play them.

AV1 vs. HEVC

The current video compression standard uses higher codec complexity in exchange for the improvement of video compression efficiency, for example, in WebRTC, we have witnessed three codec generations: from VP8 and H.264 to VP9 and HEVC, and now, we are moving to the newest one, AV1. The latest coding quality comparison study shows that AV1 gets the top position of compression quality (lower bandwidth for the same quality).

video codec generations

Facebook's compression effect test of AV1, VP9, and H.264. Compared the test results, it draws the conclusion that "AV1 surpasses its stated goal of 30% better compression than VP9, and achieves gains of 50.3%, 46.2% and 34.0%, compared to x264 main profile, x264 high profile and libvpx-vp9, respectively."

facebook av1 test

The Moscow State University also conducts codec performance tests every year, and in 2019, after 11 (260 hours) total compression time, in their test results, AV1 achieved the best compression effect, clearly surpassing H.264, H.265 (HEVC) and VP9.

Although AV1 has the best compression effect, its coding efficiency is still far from VP9 HEVC. The efficiency of AV1 codec was 1,000 times slower than the current HEVC when it was newly released, but after optimization, it is expected to reach 100 times. Still slower than HEVC but this new codec is making progress little by little.

For its more efficient streaming, many consumer service providers are very optimistic about AV1. In 2018, YouTube had an AV1 Beta Launch Playlist to test AV1 video on Chrome and Firefox. In 2020, Netflix began to stream AV1 on Android. With the expensive costs of HEVC, to save bandwidth and patent fees, the implementation of AV1 may be further increased.

But the only problem is that the device support is inadequate, because AV1 does not have Hardware Acceleration on smartphones,either the iPhone or Android may struggle to play a 1080p 60FPS AV1 video. As to HEVC, iPhone since iOS 11 (2017) has the HEVC addition of Hardware Acceleration done, but Android phone still does not have.

youtube video av1 codec

How Do I Play AV1?

To pay AV1 video, the key is whether your device has a decoder that supports this codec. Windows PC and Mac do not natively support playing AV1 video, but you can watch YouTube or Netflix AV1 video because the browser and APP have added the AV1 decoder. If you want to play AV1 videos on your local drive, you can choose to install the AV1 extension, AV1 decoder or AV1 supported media player to help.

Method 1: Best 4 AV1 decoders

An encoder converts video into a compressed format and a decoder converts compressed video back into an uncompressed format to achieve video playback. In order to get AV1 popularized, we need to have fast software decoders. For now there are four mainstream AV1 decoders, they are Libaom, Dav1d, SVT-AV1 and libgav1, you can go to their official site for more information about these AV1 decoder performance.


Libaom is the reference implementation which includes an encoder (aomenc) and a decoder (aomdec). As the original standard of AV1 encoder and decoder, Libaom may not be the best, but it is the "first official release" for production, and is always used as a standard for comparison in the development of other AV1 encoder and decoder.

Libaom has the advantage of being able to reasonably demonstrate the efficient use of each function, but at the general cost of encoding speed.


Dav1d, an open-source & cross-platform AV1 decoder aiming to be small and fast, is developed by VideoLAN and FFmpeg communities and sponsored by the Alliance for Open Media. Libaom is good, but the developers of dav1d think that an implementation written from scratch can achieve faster decoding.

Dav1d is claimed to support all specifications of AV1 standard, and its decoding performance is significantly better than aomdec. Now, dav1d is port to most platforms like Windows, Linux, macOS, Android and iOS.


SVT-AV1 is an open source AV1 codec implementation, including the encoder and decoder developed by Intel and Netflix in 2019 and hosted on GitHub. SVT-AV1 is able to adapt to the number of available cores, including the latest servers with a large number of core threads, which allows SVT-AV1 to effectively shorten the encoding time while still maintaining the existing compression rate.

In the 1-thread mode, the SVT-AV1 decoder is slightly faster than the Libaom, while in the 4-thread mode, SVT-AV1 has a greater speed increase than the Libaom decoder. SVT-AV1 encoder may run on any Windows, Linux 64-bit and Mac 64-bit operating systems.


libgav1 is a Main profile (0) and High profile (1) compliant AV1 decoder developed by Google. It was invented to focus on ARM-powered Android devices and x86_64 desktop CPUs. Compared with other AV1 decoders, such as dav1d, libgav1 still have a long way to work on. With the same input video file used on libgav1 and dav1d, the performance of the former remains less than half the speed of the latter.

Method 2: Top AV1 Players

Player is a shell for various codecs, it needs to call the corresponding decoder while playing the video. As a rookie has never really used the decoder before, problems like struggling to read the professional tests report about the AV1 decoder, have no idea about how to choose a decoder or set it on computer will push you to an easier solution, AV1 player.

However, the market for new things is not yet mature, not many players are available for AV1 video playback now. Here, we recommend VLC, 5KPlayer and CnX Player, which are the only known multimedia players that support playing AV1 videos.


VLC is a free and open source cross-platform multimedia player and framework that supports customizing functions by adding plugins. It runs on almost any operating systems, including Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, iPadOS, Linux, Tizen, Unix, Xbox One and more. Since VLC 3.0.0 Vetinari, it has added AV1 codec support and are improving the AV1 video playback experience in each of its later version.

VLC is huge popularly and one of the good reason is that with rapid iteration, VLC is able to quickly response and fix the bugs. If you are using VLC but failed to open an AV1 video file, try to solve the problem by updating it to the newest version.

av1 player VLC

Customize extensions
Many formats are supported

Unintuitive workflow
Always has bugs in the new version

CnX Player

CnX Player is released in 2015, and actually is still a new software. It is said to support play 4K UHD video in HEVC, H.264, and VP9, and its newest version had added AV1 codec playback for Windows 10. But, CnX Player is not a free software, to move ads, play HDR 10-bit video, or cast video to TV, you have to pay for the features one by one.

As a Windows Mac PC user, there are too many free media players to choose now, if you are not a fan of CnX Player and stick with this brand, moving to another free multimedia player could be a priority choice. But, as mentioned above, phones do not have AV1 Hardware Accleration support, if you need to play AV1 video on mobile, get it a try.

cnx player AV1 player on mobile

Play UHD video
Personalise video viewing gallery

Offers in-app purchases
Unintuitive UI design


5KPlayer is a powerful free video program to play almost any video music in any format include MP4, HEVC, AV1, VP9, MKV, etc. and delicately renders up to HDR 4K/8K videos. Starting from version 6.2, 5KPlayer added support for AV1 codec and fixed some small bugs on AV1 video playback.

We call it a program because in addition to being a player, 5KPlayer also has many other bonus functions. 5KPlayer is featured in streaming live video, AirPlay and screen mirroring across Apple devices, DLNA streaming from mobile to PC/TV, save video from online sites, and convert any video to MP4 or MP3 format. All of the features are free without in-app purchase.

If you want to play AV1 video with 5KPlayer, download or upgrade it to the newest version, with the Hardware Acceleration tech, you can make AV1 video playback smooth as butter.

av1 player 5kplayer

All-in-one video tool
Free to use all the features
Hardware Acceleration support

Runs only on Windows & macOS

How to Play AV1 Video with 5KPlayer?

Step 1: Download and install 5KPlayer, launch it on your Windows or Mac. If you already had 5KPlayer installed, please check for update.

Step 2: Click on "Video" button on the user interface, then you can see the folder on your PC.

Step 3:  Select the video you want to play on the folder, click "OK" and you can start watching the video. Also, you can drag the video you want to play to the user interface of 5KPlayer to play it.

With only 3 steps you can easily enable AV1 video playback on your PC. As a professional free AV1 player, 5KPlayer is able to play AV1 1080p HD 4K videos on Windows or Mac without choke. No codec pack download needed, and no audio video out of sync problem.

Closing words:
Competition is always good for the consumer. AV1, as a new video codec standard with better compression effect that made it comparable to HEVC and VP9 in the market, not to mention that AV1 codec is patent-free. We expect that AV1 will have a higher coding efficiency after the subsequent optimization, and devices and software support will become more popular.

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