AV1 Video Samples Now Available on YouTube & Netflix

We first covered AV1 royalty-free, open source video codec in 2016, which with backing from companies like Google, Amazon, Intel, Microsoft, and many others with the aim to compete with H.265, and lower the cost of delivering video both thanks to a better compression ratio, and the lack of royalties.

Since then progress has been made, with AV1 specifications released last March, and now both YouTube and Netflix are offering some beta AV1 video samples for testing.

Youtube AV1 Video samples
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If you want to play some videos in AV1 format in YouTube as I did in the screenshot above, you’d need to install a very recent (beta) version of Chrome or Firefox, follow the other instructions as explained in YouTube’s AV1 beta playlist:

Support for AV1 in MP4 within Media Source is available in Chrome 70, and Firefox 63 builds newer than September 13 with the media.av1.enabled pref set.

Using a supported browser and choosing the ‘Prefer AV1 for SD’ setting on youtube.com/testtube, you should see AV1 used for these videos when playing less than 480p, switching to VP9 for higher resolutions.

YouTube AV1
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So remember that for now the samples are only available at 480p only, and the bitrate is fairly high for now, but this is for testing… Make sure you see “Codecs av01” in the Stats for Nerds overlay. If you don’t and instead see avc1 or vp09, something is not right.

If you want to download the sample for local use, I assume you could likely do so with any video downloader, so I tried with youtube-dl command line tool in Ubuntu 18.04:

But sadly it filters out video with AV1 codec since the utility never heard about “av01.0.05M.08” codec. Ubuntu repo does not usually come with the very latest version of tools, so instead let’s get the one provided by the developer:

And we can now find AV1 “av01” samples in the list of video formats:

Let’s try to download format 399 with AV1 codec and 1920×1080 resolution:

This looks good, but  let’s have a quick check to confirm the video info:

Perfect. Since I’m now aware of a 1080p AV1 video, I also went back to Chrome and set “Always Prefer AV1”, and my laptop – based on AMD Ryzen 7 2700U processor – could play the video fairly well most of the time, but for some sequence at the 9 seconds mark where the video became choppy for several seconds despite overall CPU usage remaining low, and no buffering issues. Note that decoding appears to rely on two threads max at this stage.

I don’t have a Netflix account, but according to Anandtech, the company is offering a single video ranging from 432p to 1080p in 8-bit or 10-bit color depth.

AV1 Adoption Timeline
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Anandtech also shared a timeline for AV1 adoption, and while we can expect AV1 in desktop web browser fairly soon, the first devices – e.g. TV boxes – with silicon capable of handling AV1 (by hardware) should become available in 2020.

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