Chrome 90 for desktop began rolling out yesterday and if you missed it, you aren’t alone. There aren’t a ton of big, new features for end users to get excited about and that is a bit expected with the latest version. With Chrome OS turning 10 as the Chrome 89 upgrade cycle hit last month, tons of new features and additions showed up to be a part of the celebration. With those extra bits and pieces all arriving in the last update, it is par for the course to see a less feature-packed upgrade this time around. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t important changes to consider, and the new AV1 encoder for WebRTC is probably the biggest one.
What are WebRTC and AV1 and why should you care?
Again, this Chrome update has a lot going on under the hood that end users will benefit from but likely not need to know about. This AV1 encoder appear that way to many users glancing over the latest changes, but I promise the impact will be felt by just about everyone that uses Chrome. In order to understand why, you need to have a basic understanding of WebRTC and what it does. Here is an explanation from webrtc.org:
Now, we need to understand a bit about AV1 in order to understand the importance of the the AV1 encoder that is included in Chrome 90. AV1 is simply a video format built with the transmission of web video in mind. If data compression is the goal, AV1 is the solution at this point. With more and more streaming video for standard content, video calls, and live events, we need smooth, low-bandwidth video now more than ever. AV1 – introduced in 2018 – is becoming quite widely available and is already in use (or in the pipeline) by services like YouTube, Netflix, Facebook, Twitch, and Vimeo. Simply put, AV1 is becoming the go-to standard for online, streaming video. Putting the two together (AV1 + WebRTC), you start to see where this new feature in Chrome will come in very handy. From the Chromium Blog:
An AV1 encoder is shipping in Chrome desktop that is specifically optimized for video conferencing with WebRTC integration. The benefits of AV1 include:
- Better compression efficiency than other types of video encoding, reducing bandwidth consumption and improve visual quality
- Enabling video for users on very low bandwidth networks (offering video at 30kbps and lower)
- Significant screen sharing efficiency improvements over VP9 and other codecs.
With better handling of video compression coupled with optimization for low bandwidth connections, this new AV1 encoder should make a very big difference in the overall quality of video calls in services like Duo, Meet and Cisco Webex. These services request AV1 over webRTC already, so now that Chrome can deliver it, they should take advantage of it. Obviously you’ll need two users both on Chrome OS 90 to take advantage, but I’d assume the difference in low-bandwidth situations should be quite noticeable once most users update to the latest stable build. As more and more of us spend time in virtual meetings and calls, this is a technical upgrade to Chrome that should have far-reaching effect on the end user experience for the better.