Google reveals “Anthill” an open hardware spec for VP8

Video encoding / decoding remains a highly resource intensive process and in this web codec battle, hardware support is a rather important factor.

Hardware support has been an important point raised by advocates of H.264 as a format of choice for web video. Despite the continual advancements in the CPUs that are used in mobiles, video decoding, and more importantly encoding, are too CPU intensive to work without additional help. The H.264 format has very good compression and quality, but this comes at the price of complexity, decoding and encoding is very CPU-intensive, and offers a good challenge to even most desktop chipsets.

Mobiles, tablets, netbooks and the like (even TVs) instead rely on the presence of hardware-based decoders for H.264 content that can offload this task from the CPU. To play back HD video content available online on your mobile phone, it needs to include a hardware decoder for H.264 (most do).

The problem with VP8 here is that it does not currently have the required hardware decoding facilities available for it to work satisfactorily on mobiles. While decoding VP8 content in HD is a challenge for mobile CPUs, encoding HD content is a significantly bigger challenge.

Google had earlier released a hardware decoder IP that was capable of playing back full HD VP8 content at 60fps. What Google has released now is the world’s first hardware encoder for VP8 that is capable of encoding full HD 1080p video at 30fps. These aren’t hardware devices you can buy, but designs for hardware components that can be integrated into chipsets by manufacturers.

By integrating these chips in future chipsets device manufacturers will be able to create tablets and even phones that can play back and record HD content in VP8. Google has made both the hardware decoder and hardware encoder available at a no-cost license. For those worried that Google will suddenly start charging, know that even if they do, the VP8 format itself will remain free and open, and others will be free to make their own implementations.

The free and open nature of the VP8 specification is one of it’s few advantages against H.264 when it comes to web content, as the latter is what provides better quality. However, it is still a while till you find VP8 enabled in as broad a selection of devices as H.264 is. Google is trying its best to prepare the world for VP8 as the future format of the web.


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