Versatile Video Coding (VVC) Explained

Versatile Video Coding (VVC), is one of three new video codecs announced by the Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG) in 2020. Ostensibly, VVC is designed as one successor to HEVC (High-Efficiency Video Coding) and is accompanied by EVC (Essential Video Coding) and LCEVC (Low Complexity Enhancement Video Coding) in this latest batch of new codecs.

New Standards -- The Technical Details

Starting in 2015, the MPEG and VCEG (Video Coding Experts Group) formed JVET –- the Joint Video Experts Team –- to create next-gen video compression that could handle the evolution of video standards.

In turn, JVET came up with a few goals for the new codecs. Namely, future codecs should:

  • Achieve 30-50% better compression than HEVC -– with the same quality experience, supporting lossless and subjectively lossless compression
  • Support 4k to 16kK and VR 360° video
  • Support YCbCr color with 4:4:4, 4:2:2, and 4:2:0 quantization
  • Provide 8 bit to 16 bit per component color depth
  • Provide BT.2100 and 16+-step High Dynamic Range (HDR)
  • Provide aux channels like depth and alpha
  • Provide variable and fractional frame rates, 0 to 120 Hz
  • Provide scalable coding with temporal and spatial scalability
  • Provide SNR, stereo/multiview coding, panorama, and still image coding

Versatile Video Coding, which is also known as H.266, ISO/IEC 23090-3, MPEG-I Part 3, or Future Video Coding (FVC), was finalized in July of 2020. Its encoding complexity is ten times greater than HVEC and its decoding is twice as complex, but for the most part, it has delivered as expected.

Bottom line: Versatile video coding features make encoding higher quality video better, meaning it can take up less space on hard drives as well as improve the streaming of high-quality video. However, this comes at a cost of the encoding taking more than nine times as long.

Using VVC in Real Life

VVC as a standard seeks to make future OTT, streaming, and video conferencing better by supporting high-quality video up to 16K, which is way beyond the 6K video that represents the best quality around now and certainly beats 4K, which is the highest quality streamed today.

VVC also supports 360° video, which enables experiences like immersive video streaming, which could revolutionize everything from teleconferencing to virtual performances.

However, since VVC is a standards-based codec, it’s likely that it will suffer from some compatibility issues with certain browsers – namely any browser developed by members of the Alliance for Open Media, which has its own codec, AV1. VVC’s predecessor HEVC only runs on about 18% of browsers, so it’s expected that VVC’s compatibility will continue to be similar.

This means Virtual Video Coding may not be the best codec to use for web-based videos that are intended for browsers. Instead, VVC is likely to be used more for professional applications like video conferencing and dedicated OTT streaming apps.

Royalty-Based Codec

Versatile Video Coding is a royalty-based codec, which means there is a charge to use it in professional settings, but that’s about as clear as we can get. Who will pay and who will police usage is not clear, and if its predecessor, HVEC, is any indicator, it may never be clear. What this means in the future for content creators, owners of streaming services, and other end users is anybody’s guess at this point. More importantly, as of now it’s still not the standard.

Livestreaming platforms have yet to adopt it, and it may take a few years for that to happen, partially because of these royalty considerations.

Versatile Video Coding – Potential for the Future

VVC video coding represents an effort to modernize video codecs, recognizing the need to keep up with evolving and improving video standards. In the near future, Versatile Video Coding could be a step forward in streaming.