VP9 is a successor to VP8 and competes mainly with MPEG's High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC/H.265). At first, VP9 was mainly used on Google's popular video platform YouTube. The emergence of the Alliance for Open Media, and its support for the ongoing development of the successor AV1, led to growing interest in the format.
In contrast to HEVC, VP9 support is common among web browsers (see HTML5 video § Browser support). The combination of VP9 video and Opus audio in the WebM container, as served by YouTube, is supported by roughly ¾ of the browser market (mobile included) as of early 2017, thanks to only two significantly popular video capable browsers lacking VP9 support: the discontinued Internet Explorer (unlike its successor Edge) and Safari (both desktop and mobile versions) which remains the last H.264 holdout among web browsers. Android has supported VP9 since version 4.4 KitKat, though hardware acceleration varies.
Parts of the format are covered by patents held by Google. The company grants free usage of its own related patents based on reciprocity, i.e. as long as the user does not engage in patent litigations.
An offline encoder comparison between libvpx, two HEVC encoders and x264 in May 2017 by Jan Ozer of Streaming Media Magazine, with encoding parameters supplied or reviewed by each encoder vendor (Google, MulticoreWare and MainConcept respectively), and using Netflix's VMAF objective metric, concluded that "VP9 and both HEVC codecs produce very similar performance" and "Particularly at lower bitrates, both HEVC codecs and VP9 deliver substantially better performance than H.264".
Netflix concluded after a large test in August 2016 that libvpx was 20% less efficient than x265, but by October the same year, also found that tweaking encoding parameters could "reduce or even reverse gap between VP9 and HEVC". At NAB 2017, Netflix shared that they had switched to the Eve encoder, which had working two-pass rate control and was 8% more efficient than libvpx.
An early comparison that took varying encoding speed into account showed x265 to narrowly beat libvpx at the very highest quality (slowest encoding) whereas libvpx was superior at any other encoding speed, by SSIM.
In a subjective quality comparison conducted in 2014 featuring the reference encoders for HEVC (HM 15.0), MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 (JM 18.6), and VP9 (libvpx 1.2.0 with preliminary VP9 support), VP9, like H.264, required about two times the bitrate to reach video quality comparable to HEVC, while with synthetic imagery VP9 was close to HEVC. By contrast, another subjective comparison from 2014 concluded that at higher quality settings HEVC and VP9 were tied at a 40 to 45% bitrate advantage over H.264.
An encoding speed versus efficiency comparison of the reference implementation in libvpx, x264 and x265 was made by an FFmpeg developer in September 2015: By SSIM index, libvpx was mostly superior to x264 across the range of comparable encoding speeds, but the main benefit was at the slower end of [email protected] (reaching a sweet spot of 30–40% bitrate improvement within twice as slow as this), whereas x265 only became competitive with libvpx around 10 times as slow as [email protected]. It was concluded that libvpx and x265 were both capable of the claimed 50% bitrate improvement over H.264, but only at 10–20 times the encoding time of x264. Judged by the objective quality metric VQM in early 2015, the VP9 reference encoder delivered video quality on par with the best HEVC implementations.
A decoder comparison by the same developer showed 10% faster decoding for ffvp9 than ffh264 for same-quality video, or "identical" at same bitrate. It also showed that the implementation can make a difference, concluding that "ffvp9 beats libvpx consistently by 25–50%".
Another decoder comparison indicated 10–40 percent higher CPU load than H.264 (but does not say whether this was with ffvp9 or libvpx), and that on mobile, the Ittiam demo player was about 40 percent faster than the Chrome browser at playing VP9.
There are several variants of the VP9 format, the so-called coding profiles, that successively allow more features, starting from the basic version, the profile 0 (minimum for hardware implementations), up to profile 3:
VP9 offers the following 14 levels:
||Luma Samples/s||Luma Picture Size||Max Bitrate (kbit/s)||Max CPB Size for Visual Layer (kbits)||Min Compression Ratio||Max Tiles||Min Alt-Ref Distance||Max Reference Frames||Examples for resolution @ frame rate|
VP9 has many design improvements compared to VP8. Its biggest improvement is support for the use of coding units of 64×64 pixels. This is especially useful with high-resolution video. Also the prediction of motion vectors was improved. In addition to VP8's four modes (average/"DC", "true motion", horizontal, vertical), VP9 supports six oblique directions for linear extrapolation of pixels in intra-frame prediction.
New coding tools also include:
In order to enable some parallel processing of frames, video frames can be split along coding unit boundaries into up to four rows of 256 to 4096 pixels wide evenly spaced tiles with each tile column coded independently. This is mandatory for video resolutions in excess of 4096 pixels. A tile header contains the tile size in bytes so decoders can skip ahead and decode each tile row in a separate thread. The image is then divided into coding units called superblocks of 64×64 pixels which are adaptively subpartitioned in a quadtree coding structure. They can be subdivided either horizontally or vertically or both; square (sub)units can be subdivided recursively down to 4×4 pixel blocks. Subunits are coded in raster scan order: left to right, top to bottom.
Starting from each key frame, decoders keep 8 frames buffered to be used as reference frames or to be shown later. Transmitted frames signal which buffer to overwrite and can optionally be decoded into one of the buffers without being shown. The encoder can send a minimal frame that just triggers one of the buffers to be displayed ("skip frame"). Each inter frame can reference up to three of the buffered frames for temporal prediction. Up to two of those reference frames can be used in each coding block to calculate a sample data prediction, using spatially displaced (motion compensation) content from a reference frame or an average of content from two reference frames ("compound prediction mode"). The (ideally small) remaining difference (delta encoding) from the computed prediction to the actual image content is transformed using a DCT or ADST (for edge blocks) and quantized.
Something like a b-frame can be coded while preserving the original frame order in the bitstream using a structure named superframes. Hidden alternate reference frames can be packed together with an ordinary inter frame and a skip frame that triggers display of previous hidden altref content from its reference frame buffer right after the accompanying p-frame.
In container formats VP9 streams are marked with the FourCC
VP90 (or in the future possibly
VP91, ...) or
VP09. In order to be seekable, raw VP9 bitstreams have to be encapsulated in a container format, for example the Matroska-derived WebM format (.webm) or the older minimalistic Indeo video file (IVF) format which is traditionally supported by libvpx. 
Adobe Flash, which traditionally used VPx formats up to VP7, was never upgraded to VP8 or VP9, but instead to H.264. Therefore, VP9 often penetrated corresponding web applications only with the gradual shift from Flash to HTML5 technology, which was still somewhat immature when VP9 was introduced. Trends towards UHD resolutions, higher color depth and wider gamuts are driving a shift towards new, specialized video formats. With the clear development perspective and support from the industry demonstrated by the founding of the Alliance for Open Media, as well as the pricey and complex licensing situation of HEVC it is expected that users of the hitherto leading MPEG formats will often switch to the royalty-free alternative formats of the VPx/AVx series instead of upgrading to HEVC.
Another early adopter is Wikipedia (specifically Wikimedia Commons, which hosts multimedia files across Wikipedia's subpages and languages). Wikipedia endorses open and royalty-free multimedia formats. As of 2016, the 3 accepted video formats are VP9, VP8 and Theora.
As of December 2016, Netflix is in progress of encoding their catalog to VP9, alongside AVC High, for bitrates aimed at mobile users.
VP9 is implemented in the webbrowsers
Internet Explorer and Apple Safari are missing VP9 support completely. In March 2016 an estimated 65 to 75% of webbrowsers in use on desktop and notebook systems were able to play VP9 videos in HTML5 webpages, based on data from StatCounter.
Android has had VP9 software decoding since version 4.4 "KitKat". For a list of consumer electronics with hardware support, including TVs, smartphones, set top boxes and game consoles, see webmproject.org's list.
The following chips, architectures, CPUs, GPUs and SoCs provide hardware acceleration of VP9. Some of these are known to have fixed function hardware, but this list also incorporates GPU or DSP based implementations – software implementations on non-CPU hardware. The latter category also serve the purpose of offloading the CPU, but power efficiency is not as good as the fixed function hardware (more comparable to well optimized SIMD aware software).
Intel Kaby Lake, Coffee Lake, Apollo Lake and Gemini Lake CPU families, Nvidia Maxwell GM206 and Pascal GPU families have full fixed function VP9 hardware decoding for highest decoding performance and power efficiency.
|Bristol Ridge||FX 9800P/A12-9700P||N|
|Vega||RX Vega 64/RX Vega 56||?|
|ARM||Mali-V61 ("Egil") VPU|
|Imagination||PowerVR Series6||Apple iPhone 6/6s||N|
|Skylake||Intel Core i7 6700|
|Kaby Lake||Intel Core i7 7700|
|Nvidia||Maxwell GM206||GTX 950/960/750v2||N|
|Pascal||GTX 1080/1070/1060/1050, GT 1030||N|
|Tegra X1||Nvidia Shield Android TV,||N|
|Qualcomm||Snapdragon 820/821||OnePlus 3, Samsung Galaxy S7,||N|
|Snapdragon 835||Samsung Galaxy S8,
OnePlus 5, Xiaomi Mi 6
|Samsung||Exynos 7 Octa 7420||Samsung Galaxy S6,||N|
|Exynos 8 Octa 8890||Samsung Galaxy S7|
|Exynos 9 Octa 8895||Samsung Galaxy S8|
The reference implementation from Google is found in the free software programming library
libvpx. It has a single-pass and a two-pass encoding mode, whereas the single-pass mode is considered broken and does not offer effective control over the target bitrate.
FFmpeg's VP9 decoder takes advantage of a corpus of SIMD optimizations shared with other codecs to make it fast. A comparison made by an FFmpeg developer indicated that this was faster than libvpx, and compared to FFmpeg's h.264 decoder, "identical" performance for same-bitrate video, or about 10% faster for same-quality video.
VP9 is the last official iteration of the TrueMotion series of video formats that Google bought in 2010 for $134 million together with the company On2 Technologies that created it. The development of VP9 started in the second half of 2011 under the development names of Next Gen Open Video (NGOV) and VP-Next. The design goals for VP9 included reducing the bit rate by 50% compared to VP8 while maintaining the same video quality, and aiming for better compression efficiency than the MPEG High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC) standard. In June 2013 the "profile 0" of VP9 was finalized, and two months later Google's Chrome browser was released with support for VP9 video playback. In October of that year a native VP9 decoder was added to FFmpeg, and to Libav six weeks later. Mozilla added VP9 support to Firefox in March 2014. In 2014 Google added two high bit depth profiles: profile 2 and profile 3.
In 2013 an updated version of the WebM format was published, featuring support for VP9 together with Opus audio.
In March 2013, the MPEG Licensing Administration dropped an announced assertion of disputed patent claims against VP8 and its successors after the United States Department of Justice started to investigate whether it was acting to unfairly stifle competition.
Throughout, Google has worked with hardware vendors to get VP9 support into silicon. In January 2014, Ittiam, in collaboration with ARM and Google, demonstrated its VP9 decoder for ARM Cortex devices. Using GPGPU techniques, the decoder was capable of 1080p at 30fps on an Arndale Board. In early 2015 Nvidia announced VP9 support in its Tegra X1 SoC, and VeriSilicon announced VP9 Profile 2 support in its Hantro G2v2 decoder IP.
In April 2015 Google released a significant update to its libvpx library, with version 1.4.0 adding support for 10-bit and 12-bit bit depth, 4:2:2 and 4:4:4 chroma subsampling, and VP9 multithreaded decoding/encoding.
In March 2017, Ittiam announced the completion of a project to enhance the encoding speed of libvpx. The speed improvement was said to be 50-70%, and the code "publicly available as part of libvpx".
On September 12, 2014, Google announced that development on VP10 had begun and that after the release of VP10 they plan to have an 18-month gap between releases of video formats. In August 2015, Google began to publish code for VP10.
However, Google decided to incorporate VP10 into AOMedia Video 1 (AV1). The AV1 codec will use elements of VP10 as well as the experimental formats Daala (Xiph/Mozilla) and Thor (Cisco). Accordingly, Google has stated that they will not deploy VP10 internally or officially release it, making VP9 the last of the VPx-based codecs to be released by Google.
x265/libvpx are ~50% better than x264, as claimed. But, they are also 10–20x slower.
So how does VP9 decoding performance compare to that of other codecs? There's basically two ways to measure this: same-bitrate, or same-quality (…) We did same-quality measurements, and found: ffvp9 tends to beat ffh264 by a tiny bit (10%) (…) we did some same-bitrate comparisons, and found that x264 and ffvp9 are essentially identical in that scenario
We submitted this WHT plus a few variants to Google for use in VP9's lossless coding mode; they chose one of the alternate versions of the WHT illustrated above.
In this blog post, we summarize our recent work on generating more efficient video encodes, especially targeted towards low-bandwidth connections. We refer to these new bitstreams as our mobile encodes. (…) The VP9-Mobile streams show more gains and can deliver an average of 36% bitrate savings according to PSNR and VMAF. (…) Last month, we started re-encoding our catalog to generate the new mobile bitstreams and the effort is ongoing.
NVIDIA has now confirmed to us that the SHIELD Android TV will be updated in due course to support encrypted VP9 and Google Play Movies & TV 4K content.
The new Chromecast Ultra has support for (…) VP9 profile 0 and 2
new VP9 video decoding implemented
H.265, VP9 4K 60 fps Video
[...] code from VP10, by far the most mature of the three, will dominate.
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