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Encoding 2020: Experts Predict the Future of Video Encoding

By Jan Ozer

A Streaming Media survey shows big changes afoot in the next five years, with a move to the cloud, away from Flash, and towards 4K and HEVC.

What’s the encoding world going to look like 5 years hence? That’s what we wanted to know, and we decided to investigate from two different angles. The first was via a survey taken by 335 Streaming Media readers, the second from conversations with vendors in the streaming media space. Let’s start with a look at the survey data.

Reader Survey
For the record, we solicited responses via an article on the Streaming Media website, offering a $100 Amazon gift card as an incentive. After some demographic questions, the survey focused on technology and implementation questions, gathering data about current practices and planned practices for 2020. You’ll see the data in the seven tables that follow.

One of the demographic questions asked about annual spending on encoding-related products and services. I thought it would be interesting to see how opinions varied between those at the top of the spending ladder ($500,000 or more), and those who spent less than $50,000. So for each reported survey response, I include data for all respondents and for respondents in these two categories.

The change section on the extreme right of each table reports the changes from 2015 to 2020 in all three categories, and it’s been color coded to make it easier to spot significant trends. Any negative change of 50 percent or less is colored in yellow; beyond that, it’s colored in red. All positive changes up to and including 100 percent are colored in blue, while those exceeding 100 percent are colored in green.

Table 1 presents where respondents are encoding VOD files now and where they plan to encode in 2020. As you can see, the big encoding spenders are leading the charge to the cloud, already encoding 41 percent of their files in the cloud. By 2020, all three categories are close to 60/40 in favor of the cloud. The green numbers in the change column reflect this momentum. If you thought on-premises encoding was going away, however, it looks like you’re mistaken, with 39 percent of all encoding anticipated to be on-premises in 2020.

Table 2 shows the same numbers for live encoding. Interestingly, though live cloud transcoding has only been available for 2 or 3 years, its numbers are very close to VOD encoding. Big spenders again lead the charge over other respondents, though the numbers are very close by 2020.

Table 3 shows codec usage data for 2015 and 2020. Glancing at the color coding, it’s clear that VC-1 and H.264 are the big losers, while H.265 and VP9 are the big winners. Though only 10 percent of respondents planned on using VP9, that’s still a huge number compared to current VP9 usage, and it’s telling that the big spenders anticipate 10 percent of their streams to be VP9. HEVC stealing share from H.264 is obviously a surprise to no one.

How quickly will the world adapt 4K/8K? Just check Table 4. By 2020, close to 40 percent of all video distributed by our respondents will be 4K or larger. Not surprisingly, big spenders are again the first movers with 4K and 8K video, though by 2020, even the hoi polloi will have caught up at 4K, with 29 percent of their streams anticipated to be at this resolution.

On to Table 5. By 2020, most pundits would predict that DASH would be the dominant adaptive streaming technology, which Table

5 confirms, though there’s other intriguing data. For example, the big spenders dumped RTMP-based Flash much faster than other respondents, with higher percentages of Smooth Streaming and HDS than the respondents as whole. However, the red boxes in the change column shows that big spenders are dumping these technologies in favor of DASH much more quickly than the other groups.

Also interesting is the predicted continued usage of HLS, which probably reflects the general consensus that that Apple might never adopt DASH. In addition, Flash might be dead in some users’ eyes, but it looks to be the technology of choice for 20 percent of streams in 2020.

Where will we be sending these streams in 2020? Table 6 shows the stream allocation between computers, mobile, and OTT/ smart TVs now and in 5 years. Computers are dropping, but not off a cliff, and OTT/smart TVs, currently a stronghold for the big spending crowd, will become an increased focus for all streaming producers, particularly the smaller ones, with an increase of 141 percent.

Finally, let’s take a high-level view of the Flash to HTML5 transition, which Table 7 shows is a transition that many respondents have made with almost half of their streams. Perhaps some day, Adobe’s enduring plug-in will be an afterthought, but apparently not by 2020, when 22 percent of the largest respondents expect the streams distributed to computers and notebooks to be watched via Flash.

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