Qualcomm supports AV1 playback, but don’t hold out for AV1 encoding

Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 SoC up close

TL;DR

  • A Qualcomm representative suggested that the company will skip AV1 encoding.
  • The representative hinted that Qualcomm could skip to VVC encoding instead.
  • This will allow for much smaller file sizes when recording video on mobile.

Qualcomm launched the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chipset in November 2022, and it’s powering the top-end smartphones from a variety of brands. One notable multimedia-related addition is AV1 decode/playback support.

Why AV1 playback matters

The AV1 codec is a royalty-free, open-source video codec that offers better video quality and up to 30% smaller file sizes than the High Efficiency Video Codec (HEVC) used by many companies and content services today. More specifically, you should expect either the same quality with the smaller file size or better quality for the same file size.

These advantages have resulted in mobile chipsets from Samsung, Google, MediaTek, and now Qualcomm all offering AV1 decode/playback support. Furthermore, Netflix and YouTube have been offering AV1 video streams to supported Android phones since 2020, using this codec to save bandwidth for users.

The Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 and chipsets from other brands still rely on the older HEVC codec for recording videos on phones though, but will we actually see AV1 encode (e.g. recording) capabilities come to mobile chipsets? Unfortunately, it sounds like you shouldn’t hold out for Qualcomm to implement this feature.

Qualcomm to skip AV1 encoding?

Qualcomm vice president of product management for cameras Judd Heape suggested to Android Authority that the company will skip AV1 encoding in favor of a future video codec.

“I don’t see AV1 encode getting a lot of traction in mobile, let me put it that way,” Heape noted in an interview, adding that the company thought VVC (Versatile Video Codec) will be better than AV1 in terms of encoding efficiency.

There’s not that much demand for it (AV1). And in mobile, I think our next codec that we will probably implement will not be AV1 encode. It will be something else like VVC, yes. I can’t tell you when, I can’t tell you the products, but I think as a whole, Qualcomm is very interested in VVC going forward.

Heape also explained that the AV1 encoder is “pretty complicated” and that the “cost versus return” for it likely isn’t as enticing on mobile compared to the existing HEVC encoding support.

The Qualcomm representative noted that it will offer AV1 encoding support in other product segments, but that the legacy H.264 and HEVC encoding capabilities “are gonna last us for a few more years” on mobile.

It seems strange for Qualcomm and other chipmakers to avoid AV1 encoding right now, given its free and open-source nature. However, HEVC still seems to do a pretty good job at the moment. Furthermore, Heape’s comments regarding efficiency suggest that your phone’s battery life might be impacted by recording a video with AV1 encoding.

What’s the deal with VVC?

There is indeed a new codec in the works dubbed VVC or H.266. This promises to deliver the same video quality as HEVC at half the file size. Furthermore, it’s claimed that VVC will enable 4K video content delivery at file sizes currently used for HD content. In saying so, VVC isn’t a free and open-source codec (unlike AV1), so companies will need to pay to use it.

Nevertheless, we’re keen to see smartphones and SoCs adopting this codec in the future, as it should enable much smaller file sizes when recording video. This codec is particularly important in light of smartphone video developments like 8K recording, 4K/120fps video, and other advanced video options.

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