Through the television and monitor innovations that occurred in 2013, it is becoming clear that 2014 will be a big year for 4K media consumption. There already are a variety of 4K displays on the market but in the coming year, it is expected they will drop to a more affordable price and more important, media sources will begin to offer 4K content.
TV networks may have a long road ahead of them when it comes to upgrading their content to Ultra-HD 4K, but Google has already revealed it will be coming out with a new way for 4K content to be streamed to users. A full announcement will be coming during CES 2014, but it already sounds as though YouTube may end up leading the content provider industry in the shift to 4K.
A New Codec
Francisco Varela, YouTube's director of platform partnerships revealed that in order for 4K to roll out, Google's video Web site would be utilizing a new codec that has yet to gain popularity. The codec, VP9, will be used as an alternative to H.264 since it is capable of supporting 4K but it also uses far less bandwidth, meaning that people with average Internet connections will still be able to watch 4K videos.
Google's VP9 is also royalty-free, something important for smaller video producers, as the creators of H.264 and H.265 do charge some producers a fee when using the codec for a large production.
While YouTube may be enabling 4K through VP9 first, it is possible that the more mainstream standards will be supported sometime in 2014 or 2015 as well. "This certainly isn't a war of the video codec," Varela told GigaOM.
The one major downside to VP9 is that both it and VP8 have been relatively unpopular, so TVs and monitors generally do not support the standard. Varela expects that it will take until 2015 for the first VP9-enabled TVs to hit the market, but the standard should come to PCs and mobile devices sooner.
Better for Everyone
It will likely take another six months before the average consumer begins to consider buying a 4K monitor or television, but the VP9 format should be able to help non-4K viewers of YouTube and other services as well. Google has no plans to keep VP9 to itself, so if the standard takes off on YouTube, other services may follow, which will make it easier for people to stream 4K and non-4K videos without using nearly as much bandwidth.
Current estimates predict that making the switch to VP9 will allow videos to use 50 percent less bandwidth, making it far easier for people in middle America to access HD YouTube videos without the annoying spinning wheel.
Google has already partnered with a series of TV manufacturers in order to make sure there are VP9-enabled devices coming out as soon as possible.