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H.264 vs. HEVC vs. AV1 – Which Video Format is Best?

Are you trying to figure out what the difference is between H.264, HEVC, and the new AV1 format? More importantly, do you want to know which one is best to encode your videos?

Unfortunately that isn’t as easy to answer as you might think – and it would help to know a bit more about each.

H.264 (MPEG-4 AVC)

The H.264 video codec is without a doubt the most popular video codec right now. It is used throughout the majority of online videos, and is supported by most devices and platforms.

Much of the popularity of H.264 stems from the fact that when it was released it offered far better compression than any other codec. However seeing as it is getting on in years it should come as no surprise that other codecs have surpassed it.

That being said the fact that it is supported by most devices (including mobile devices) makes it a safe ‘universal’ format to use.

HEVC (H.265)

As the successor to H.264, HEVC provides improved compression and is designed to cope with the growing demand for higher resolution and higher quality online videos. It is able to reduce the file size of H.264 videos by up to 50%.

Despite its advantages, the adoption of HEVC has been relatively slow for various reasons. One of the issues it has faced is the fact that it has a complicated licensing and royalty structure.

Recently HEVC adoption has increased, but it is still not supported by many browsers and only has hardware support on newer mobile devices.

AV1

Essentially AV1 is a format developed by the AOMedia consortium and is open and royalty-free. Early tests have shown that AV1 can compress videos more efficiently than even HEVC, by up to 30%.

It should be noted that AOMedia’s members include numerous tech giants. That in itself puts AV1 in a good position, and barring any issues it could become the most widely-used format for online videos.

Hardware support for AV1 is only expected to hit consumer devices in 2020 however, and right now even software decoders and encoders are still mostly in beta.

“So Which is Best?”

By now you should see why trying to identify which format is best isn’t easy – but to put it simply:

  • AV1 can technically provide the best compression, but it is not widely supported.
  • HEVC offers good compression and is supported by most new devices.
  • H.264 is the most widely-supported video format but has the worst compression.

At the end of the day if you want to just encode a video to publish online or distribute, you are best sticking to MP4 with H.264 for the time being. The fact that it is so universal makes it an easy choice, and even converting it is easy. For example you can quickly convert MOV to MP4 online.

In the future it is likely that either HEVC or AV1 will probably replace H.264 however. It is still too early to tell which will emerge as the most popular format, but right now AV1 seems to be in a good position.

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Pesach Lattin

Pesach "Pace" Lattin is one of the top experts in interactive advertising, affiliate marketing. Pace Lattin is known for his dedication to ethics in marketing, and focus on compliance and fraud in the industry, and has written numerous articles for publications from MediaPost, ClickZ, ADOTAS and his own blogs.

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