Streaming Ultra-HD (UHD, 4096p x 2304p, also known as 4K) or HD (1920p x 1080p) video at 60 frames per second (fps) may finally be accessible to a much wider audience due to enhancements the Chromium team has made to the frame rendering of HTML5 videos; five years after UHD content first became available on YouTube. It may surprise you but way back in 2010, YouTube announced support for UHD videos via the official YouTube blog, making it one of the first video streaming services to support the jaw dropping, pixel dense new standard; it was actually one of the few places consumers could access UHD content. Oddly, YouTube supported the new standard long before consumer versions of displays with a UHD resolution were even available; LG debuted its first UHD TV at CES 2012, an 84-inch monstrosity with a dizzying price tag.
While YouTube has been on the forefront of pushing UHD content actually playing it back is another story. It’s staggering computational and bandwidth overhead is a challenge that has held back web-based streaming of UHD video. To rectify the issue, Google released the open and free to use VP9 video compression codec in June of 2013, which allows video to be streamed with substantially lower amounts of bandwidth. The new codec, like most new web-based features, was developed by the Chromium team and was first released for the Chromium browser before making its way to Chrome.
Despite the VP9 codecs bandwidth saving features many devices still struggle to playback of UHD video because it is taxing from a computational standpoint. Since then the Chromium team has been busily working on enhancing the frame rendering of HTML5 videos to smooth out the so-called “jaggies”. According to Francois Beaufort, a member of the chromium team, the new video rendering path should enable devices that were on the edge of playing 4K 60fps, 4K 30fps, or 1080p 60fps videos on YouTube to play it smoothly. That means if you were experiencing lag every few seconds or a dropped frame here and there the video renderer should eliminate these issues. This is welcome news for pundits of pixel dense, high frame rate content, as the new software enhancements to the Chromium rendering engine will make accessing this content much better across the entire web (high-res Netflix, anyone?), not just YouTube.
Unfortunately, this feature isn’t available for Chrome as of yet. For those who may not know the official Google Chrome browser derives its source code from the open-source Chromium browser project, much like Google’s commercial version of Android is sourced from the Android Open-Source Project (AOSP). This means that the new technology will eventually make its way to Chrome once Google deems it ready for primetime. For those who cannot wait to stream some crispy high frame rate videos the Chromium browser is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux, or on Android via the Chrome Dev app in the Google Play Store. In order to enable the new frame rendered you may have to go to chrome://flags/#enable-new-video-renderer and enable it (detailed instructions at link); however, users have reported that as of a couple of hours ago the feature is enabled by default, making this step unnecessary.
Do you have a burning desire to stream UHD high frame rate content? Are you fine with good old 1080p 30fps video? Does 4K 60fps streaming even matter? Considering UHD TVs and monitors are still relatively uncommon with mainstream consumers most people probably don’t even have the opportunity to appreciate UHD content playing at its native resolution. That being said a major reason why UHD displays are not ubiquitous is the lack of UHD content that takes advantage of greater than 1080p resolutions; who wants to plop down the extra cash for a feature they will rarely use? Any technological advancements that make UHD content more accessible will ultimately stimulate the proliferation of high-res displays, which in turn encourages creators to develop UHD content. It is certainly encouraging to see Google pushing the boundaries of what is capable with technology and it will be good to see a wider release of the new rendering engine so that stunning web-based video can be enjoyed by all.