AV1 vs HEVC Comparison: Which One is Better?
Written by Kaylee Wood | Last update: September 30, 2020 | 4 Min Read
In less than 10 years, we have witnessed 3 codec generations: VP8 and H.264, VP9 and HEVC, and AV1. With flying news about AV1 codec starting from 2015, it seems the transition from HEVC to AV1 will happen much faster than that from AVC/H.264 to HEVC/H.265.
AV1 codec, the brand new video codec, is designed to replace VP9 and compete with the current industry standard HEVC, and then dominate the video compression field in the near future as the final aim. As a royalty-free alternative to HEVC and supported by all major tech leaders including Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft, AV1 video codec seemingly has a brighter future compared to HEVC. Besides, it is said to have a better compression efficiency up to 30%~50% than that of HEVC. However, it is still too early to judge the performance of AV1 as there are no enough examples as of now to show the good potential of AV1 video codec.
Considering that you are interested in the benefits and disadvantages of AV1 and HEVC, this AV1 vs HEVC comparison article will give a brief explanation from different perspectives. And we will update it when there is any change of AV1 and HEVC.
AV1 Codec vs HEVC/H.265: Definition
AV1 – Much Newer Codec
AV1 is a next-generation video compression tech designed to supersede VP9 codec and compete with HEVC. Different from HEVC, AV1 is an open and royalty-free video coding format requiring no licensing fees. It also has a quite powerful group of members including Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, Samsung, Apple, Google, Mozilla, Tencent, ARM, IBM, Netflic, Cisco, Intel and NVIDIA (NVIDIA’s GeForce RTX™ 30 Series GPUs has added AV1 hardware decoding support.) as the founding members.
The main advantages of AV1 codec are open source, great interoperability, CPU-saving, bandwidth-saving, compatibility to devices and high-quality video transmission. The main shortcoming is that it is quite new to be not that stable when encoding and decoding.
The container format for AV1 is said to be Webm.
HEVC – High Efficiency Video Coding
Successor to AVC/H.264, HEVC is a high efficiency video coding method that offers 25% to 50% better data compression compared to AVC at the same level of video quality, and owns better video quality at the same bit rate.
HEVC was specifically created to provide UHD HDR contents with wider color gamuts, so as to allow you to enjoy high-res 4K/8K videos with more details. But, that also makes it more CPU-consuming than H.264.
Unlike AV1, HEVC holds patent licensing that you have to pay for it. The main patent contributions towards the development of HEVC format are from five organizations including Samsung Electronics, General Electric, M&K Holdings, NTT and JVC Kenwood.
The MPEG establishments MP4 is the container format for HEVC.
AV1 vs HEVC Codec: Members
AV1 is the product of AOMedia (Alliance for Open Media) which includes Amazon, Cisco, Google, Intel, Microsoft, Mozilla and Netflix as the first seven founding members, and Facebook, Samsung, Apple, Tencent, ARM, IBM and Nvidia appear in this list one after another. There are also some promoter members like Adobe, AMD, BBC, Vimeo, Hulu, VideoLan, Bitmovin and Vidyo.
The patent holders of HEVC include 5 active organizations like Samsung Electronics , General Electric, M&K Holdings, NTT, and JVC Kenwood. Other patent holders include Fujitsu, Apple, Canon, Columbia University, KAIST, Kwangwoon University, MIT, Sungkyunkwan University, Funai, Hikvision, KBS, KT and NEC.
AV1 vs HEVC/H.265: Timeline
AV1 is the product of the Alliance for Open Media (AOM), which was founded in 2015. In June 2018, the 1.0 specification for AV1 was published by AOMedia. Because it is quite new and more sophisticated, the market adoption of it is not as wide as HEVC. However, you can still find some big names starting supporting AV1. For example, Netflix began streaming AV1 videos on its Android app in Feb, 2020. YouTube updated its AV1 test playlist on Oct. 30, 2019 and since then a vast number of YouTube videos including 8K videos have been encoded with AV1. As for browsers, support for the AV1 codec is available from Google Chrome version 70 which is released in mid-October 2018, and the AV1 support of Firefox starts in Firefox 67. Operating system includes Android 10 released in September 3, 2019, and software includes media player 5KPlayer which adds support for AV1 decoding in March, 2020.
The consideration to standardize a new compression technology began in 2004 and the standardization was approved in 2013. Since then, the HEVC codec has entered widespread tests and deployments. On December 22, 2016, HEVC/H.265 version 4 was approved as an ITU-T standard. From 2012 to 2018, the support for HEVC codec varies. For example, on Feb. 29, 2012 Qualcomm demonstrated a HEVC decoder running on an Android tablet. On September 9, 2014, Apple announced the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus which support HEVC/H.265 for FaceTime over cellular. On Feb. 27, 2015, VLC added support for HEVC playback. On April 11, 2016, MythTV announced a full HEVC support in its newest version. In 2017, Microsoft and GoPro started to support HEVC. In 2018, Nvidia continued to improve its HEVC hardware decoder.
AV1 Codec vs HEVC/H.265: Adoption
The adoption to AV1 codec continues covering online streaming services (Netflix, YouTube, Vimeo and Facebook), browsers (Chrome and Firefox), encoders (rav1e, SVT-AV1, Visionular Aurora encoder, Cisco encoder, EVE encoder, Millicast encoder and NGCodec encoder), decoders (dav1d, Windows 10 AV1 Video Extension, Google's LIBGAV1 and LG new 8K TV), OS (Android 10) and Media Players (5KPlayer and VLC) as of now.
Since HEVC is a mature video codec, it surely gets the support from the names mentioned in AV1 section. What makes it better than AV1 in this part is that it has got a wide range of hardware support from AMD, Nvidia, Intel, Apple, Qualcomm, etc.
AV1 Codec vs HEVC/H.265: Performance
Realtime for a live stream: AV1 is not that ideal
CPU usage: On May 29, 2020, I have tested the 1080p playback of an AV1-encoded YouTube video on Chrome on my Gigabyte computer powered by a 800MHz AMD Athlon CPU, and the result suggests the playback consumed about 20%~30% CPU usage. (The video I test: https://www.youtube.com/embed/ldaQLGOoJW0)
Bandwidth saving: AV1 will save up to 30% for the same image quality in HEVC and the percent is predicted to 50%. At lower bitrates, the video streaming quality is still high.
Realtime for a live stream: HEVC is the only choice as of now.
CPU usage: The HEVC codec indeed will require up to 10 times the computer power compared with AVC. In my test with a 1080p HEVC-encoded video playback, the CPU usage is about 60%. (The video I test: https://s3.amazonaws.com/x265.org/video/Tears_400_x265.mp4)
Bandwidth saving: HEVC/H.265 offers up to 50% bandwidth efficiency over H.264. This is quite beneficial to 4K UHD video streaming.
AV1 vs HEVC Comparison: Conclusion
AV1 (compared to HEVC)
* Open source & royalty-free
* Higher compression efficiency
* Data conservation & bandwidth saving
* Faster transmission
* Higher quality
* Greater compatibility
HEVC (compared to H.264)
* Less cost and more overhead
* Higher compression efficiency
* Better for data-strapped location
* Universally adoption
Though it is said that Apple's support for AV1 means the demise of HEVC/H.265 adoption, it is still a long way for AV1 to dominate the market. However, it is inevitable to switch from HEVC to AV1 as there is in dire need of a technology that benefits both content creators and consumers, and AV1's royalty-free status makes itself so competitive. As of now, if you want a free and next-gen video codec for saving cost and bandwidth, AV1 is the way for you to go. In contrast, HEVC should be the better choice if you need a real-time and low latency encoding.