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Having engineered the popular music encoding format MPEG-3 before developing the widely used video formats H.264 (AVC) and H.265 (HEVC), Germany’s Fraunhofer is one of the world’s most important digital media compression pioneers — directly responsible for shrinking popular media from discs into files that fit on smartphones. Today, Fraunhofer is announcing a new video compression standard named VVC, and it looks likely to become a critical enabler for the ultra high-resolution video era.

Also known as H.266, VVC is Fraunhofer’s direct sequel to HEVC, the “high-efficiency video coding” standard that’s been in use since 2013. While HEVC was considered to be impressively adept for its time at cutting down video file sizes, VVC is being billed as a “quantum leap in coding efficiency,” reducing data requirements by “around 50%” without compromising visual quality. As a result, Fraunhofer says, a 4K video that previously required 10GB of data for 90 minutes of video can now be encoded in 5GB of data, ideal for streaming ultra high-resolution videos to TVs or 360-degree panoramic videos to VR headsets.

Since 4K, 8K, and 360-degree videos contain far more data than the sub-2K and smaller videos that dominated TVs and monitors for the first half of the 2010s, they’re much more likely to fill devices and choke mobile networks — a factor that made commercial transmissions of such videos extremely difficult, if not completely impractical. “Versatile Video Coding” promises to enable efficient transmission and storage across “all video resolutions” ranging from the classic 480p SD through 8K, as well as supporting high dynamic range (HDR) color palettes, which require more bits per pixel for superior rendering of brightness, darkness, and intermediate shading. Additionally, VVC supports adaptive resolution changes and tile-based streaming, with the ability to support wider color gamuts and resolutions even higher than 8K in the future.

As was the case with each prior protocol, H.266/VVC will require new encoding and decoding chips, which Fraunhofer says “are currently being designed.” Major chip and technology companies including Apple, Ericsson, Intel, Huawei, Microsoft, Qualcomm, and Sony are all industry partners, virtually guaranteeing widespread adoption from an early date.

In what appears to be an effort to avoid previous licensing controversies, Fraunhofer says VVC will be licensed under FRAND principles by by the Media Coding Industry Forum (MC-IF), a group of over 30 companies and organizations. Ahead of that, the company plans to publish the first H.266 encoder and decoder software this fall.


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