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February 24, 2022

Qualcomm Adopting AV1 Hardware Decoding

According to a report in Protocol, Qualcomm will launch a new flagship mobile processor at the end of 2022 dubbed the SM8550. It will reportedly include AV1 hardware decoding for the first time. Is this important for the 8K ecosystem? Yes, because it expands the use of AV1 across mobile devices, which will encourage more AV1 encoding of content for playback on devices including 8K TVs.

AV1 is the open-source codec developed by the Alliance for Open Media (AOM) and is viewed as a competitor to HEVC. Some reports suggest that AV1 is 20-30% more efficient (smaller file size or bit rate) than HEVC but can require more processing to encode. There are many implementations and variables to make a fair comparison between these two codecs so that the trade-offs may sway some providers to AV1 and others to HEVC.

Qualcomm is also late to the party, with AV1 in the mobile segment. Mediatek’s 2020 Dimensity 1000 series and Samsung’s Exynos 2100 series of mobile SOCs have supported hardware AV1 decoding for a little while. Software AV1 decoding is possible too, but hardware decoding is much more efficient to help with battery life. At the 8K monitor, we are eager to see a proper comparison of relative decoding power requirements, not just for the type of hardware needed but also for the energy consumption. In a recent Op-Ed piece, we called the industry to get this going.

Many 8K models already support hardware based AV1 decoding on the TV side. Streaming support has started with Netflix and YouTube already encoding in AV1, although all content may not be in this format. Recently, Google also announced a new version of Chromecast with Google TV that will support playback of AV1 streams as well.

All indications suggest that AV1 is nearing the tipping point with broad hardware decoding support across many platforms. This increased support is necessary for content creators and streaming service providers to reencode content in AV1. We can expect a significant impact on the 8K ecosystem as AV1 hardware decoding spreads.

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