YouTube hawks ultra-HD 4K video

YouTube will push high-definition 4K video streaming in 2014, but whether Google can actually speed up those massive videos has yet to be seen.

Carlo Allegri/Reuters/File
Singer Justin Bieber performs during the Z100 Jingle Ball at Madison Square Gardens in New York. Those hoping to stream Bieber's new album on YouTube won't have to deal with long buffer times when YouTube switches to 4K in 2014.

In 2014, those wishing to watch ultra-high-definition cats frolicking online or Justin Bieber music videos won’t have to fear the inevitable buffering wheel while waiting for hefty YouTube videos to load.

YouTube is going 4K, thanks to Google.

The tech company announced that it will roll out a new way to watch 4K high-definition streaming at International CES in Las Vegas next week that allows users to watch better quality videos faster than ever before. The new level of streaming is enabled by a Google-created codec called VP9, but whether it can integrate with video on mobile devices or compete with more established codecs is yet to be seen.

YouTube will be showing off its new 4K streaming at the LG, Panasonic, and Sony booths at International CES, in hopes of helping tech users see a new alternative to video streaming capabilities.

VP9 allows for the better image quality of 4K but at a faster loading speed, as compared to the current video format, called H.264. There is also the newer version of H.264, called H.265, that can run as quickly and with as high of quality as VP9, and is gaining ground. One big difference, however, is that H.264 and H.265 are not royalty-free, meaning those looking to create a big video project using the streaming quality have to pay the company that holds its patent, MPEG LA. VP9 is royalty-free.

The full roll out of VP9 will happen by June 17, but some worry that Google may be outpacing devices.

“One problem is that Google is moving very fast,” writes Seth Rosenblat on CNET. “Software such as Web browsers on PCs can be updated rapidly, but it's harder and slower work to build hardware support into chips so mobile phones can decode video without crushing battery life. The industry barely has started coping with VP9's predecessor, VP8, which has been on the market for three years.”

This doesn’t mean that YouTube or Google will not support a video running on H.265. The company is simply developing a new option that it hopes will stream higher-resolution videos without slowing down the network.

GigaOm reporter Janko Roettgers chatted with Francisco Varela, global director of platform partnerships at YouTube, about the switch to VP9. Mr. Varela insisted that it the rollout of VP9 was not meant to create “a war of the video codecs” but rather to offer another way to stream video with a better experience for users.

“He emphasized how the use of the codec won’t just help YouTube to deliver higher resolutions at reasonable bitrates, but also reduce the amount of data necessary to stream regular HD videos by about half,” writes Mr. Roettgers. “This will help YouTube to improve video delivery and do away with buffering, said Varela: 'By 2015, you’ll be surprised every time you see that spinning wheel.’ ”

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