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YouTube Test Broadband Connections with Low Bandwidth 4K Video Streams

Monday, Jan 6th, 2014 (8:11 am) - Score 8,017

Internet technology giant Google has confirmed that its massively popular online video streaming service, YouTube, will soon give consumer broadband ISP connections a run for their money when they join Netflix to begin streaming “lower bandwidth” 4K videos (Ultra HDTV – 3840 x 2160 pixels) using the new VP9 standard.

Movie streaming service Netflix has already touted UHDTV (4K) video quality for launch in 2014 (here), which is expected to require a stable Internet download speed of at least 15Mbps (Megabits per second). But Netflix’s CEO, Reed Hastings, has stated that customers will still need a superfast broadband speed of 50Mbps to ensure a stable stream that offers the best quality and doesn’t suffer from buffering.

Meanwhile YouTube has been playing around with 4K video streams for a couple of years, although many people have struggled to play them due to slower than ideal connection speeds or compatibility problems with some existing software and hardware. A sample of one such demo can be found below – Just play it and then flick the settings wheel up to 4K, although it’s difficult to appreciate the difference without a proper 4K capable display (note: at present this is done via the existing VP8 standard).

The issue of limited bandwidth has encouraged most of the new 4K services, such as Netflix, to be developed using the new H.265 (ITU-T H.265 / ISO/IEC 23008-2 HEVC) video standard, which is so effective that it may allow some 720p HD (1280 x 720 pixels) video streams to play on sub-1Mbps connections without buffering (here).

But this week Google intends to demonstrate its own low bandwidth video streaming technology using the alternative VP9 standard at the annual consumer electronics and consumer technology tradeshow – CES 2014 in Las Vegas (USA). VP9 is an open and royalty free video compression standard, which is already directly supported via the latest versions of Firefox and Chrome (web browsers).

Much like VP8, which similarly went up against the previous H.264 standard, the new VP9 will be attempting to become a widespread industry standard that can be used beyond Google’s own services. However VP8 struggled due to limited hardware support and opposition from companies that had invested in rival commercial formats, which could also become a problem for VP9. But a number of major hardware developers (e.g. TV, CPU and GPU manufacturers) are already building VP9 kit for release this year.

On the technical front VP9 is understood to have broadly similar capabilities to H.265 and also intends to reduce the bandwidth needed for current clips by around half. Meanwhile YouTube has not ruled out the possibility that it might also add support for H.265 in the future but for now their focus will remain on VP9.

So what does all this mean for broadband ISPs and related Internet connections? Well Internet video, according to Cisco, accounts for over half of all consumer data traffic (here) and growing. As a result it is a major driver of faster connectivity and will surely help to encourage the demand and adoption of newer superfast lines.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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