Some YouTube and Netflix content will not be seen on many TVs

In a press release, perhaps by mistake, the news pops up: YouTube and Netflix will require mandatory compatibility with the AV1 codec.

The streaming world is changing fast to bring higher and higher visual quality to users, without impacting too much on the amount of data transmitted. If it wasn't so, in fact, not even those who have a good fiber connection could see streaming content at 4K resolution, let alone 8K.

The other side of the coin, however, is that those who don't have an updated system (both software and hardware side), from a certain point onwards are cut off from the latest technical innovations and the best content offered. This is what will most likely happen soon on YouTube and Netflix: the two streaming video services could, in fact, introduce mandatory compatibility with the AV1 codec soon. Non c’è una posizione ufficiale in merito, ma lo si intuisce da un comunicato stampa di Synaptics, azienda che produce soluzioni hardware per colossi del calibro di Apple, Samsung e Google.

Il comunicato di Synaptics

Synaptics ha presentato da pochi giorni il suo nuovo SoC di fascia alta VS640. Si tratta di un chip dedicato alle smart TV, una versione ridotta del VS680 presentato l’anno scorso. Ad un certo punto il comunicato recita: “La piattaforma offre la compatibilità con il formato di nuova generazione AV1, un requisito per i prossimi contenuti di YouTube e Netflix“.

Di un possibile requisito di compatibilità con lo standard AV1 sia per Netflix che per YouTube si parla già da un po’ di tempo, ma fino ad ora erano rimaste voci di corridoio. Quello di Synaptics, infatti, è il primo comunicato stampa che da per scontato questo requisito.

What is the AV1 codec

A codec is a coding-decoding standard for audio and video, based on precise algorithms of compression and image processing in order to transmit a smaller amount of data. A sort of Jpg of audio-video: quality very similar to the original, but in much less space.

AV1 is a codec developed by Google, Mozilla and Cisco, so it's very credible that YouTube, sooner or later, will explicitly request it. It's not so obvious, instead, for Netflix that can also choose another codec among the competitors, such as H.266/VVC (evolution of the now famous H.265

Who will have to change TV

The AV1 codec is very complex and is not within the reach of all hardware solutions: a smart TV that was not born compatible with AV1 (for example implementing the Synaptics VS640 SoC) is unlikely to become so with a software update.

This means that, at some point, on many smart TVs it may become impossible to use YouTube and Netflix apps, at least to watch AV1-encoded content. Which, thankfully, will almost certainly only be those in ultra-high resolution at first.