After pushing the AV1 codec, Google is pursuing Dolby with HDR and audio standards

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Alliance for Open Media

Google can basically do whatever you want in terms of video and web standards. YouTube is the most famous video site in the world. Chrome is the most popular browser in the world. Android is the most popular operating system in the world. Anything that Google wants to roll out right away can have a large user base of clients, servers, and content. From there, it’s just a matter of getting a few partners to connect with. This is how Google’s AV1 video codec is rolled out, and after that, Google sets its sights on HDR and 3D audio standards.

Janko Roettgers of the Protocol has a report on “Project Caviar,” Google’s plan to use Dolby and create royalty-free alternatives to the HDR (Dolby Vision) and 3D audio (Dolby Atmos) standard. Dolby’s legacy media business model relied on royalty fees from device manufacturers and support from content creators. The company’s technology is deeply ingrained in movie theaters, Blu-ray, and newer streaming companies like Apple, and it’s a big supporter of Dolby technology. It all costs money, and the protocol report says $50 of streaming sticks end up with about $2 of that price going to Dolby.

Surround sound has always been a cinematic feature forever with different numbers of front, rear and side speakers, but Dolby Atmos adds to rise in the equation. If you’re using a 5.1 or 7.1 speaker setup — that’s three front speakers, two rear, a subwoofer, 7.1, and two side speakers — Dolby Atmos adds four overhead speakers to the mix, allowing sound to move over the projector. Atmos is supported by Apple, Netflix, HBO Max, and Disney+.

Google deals with Dolby via the “Alliance for Open Media” group of standards, which includes Amazon, Apple, Arm, Google, Intel, Meta, Microsoft, Mozilla, Netflix, Nvidia and Samsung in the “founding members” group. This is the same group behind the AV1 standard, which arose from Google’s purchase of On2 and its open source video codec.

Neither Dolby Vision nor Atmos competitors need to develop a new codec. Google’s strategy mostly revolves around standardizing a way to ship audio and video data that doesn’t include Dolby push and branding well enough to compete. To start, the group already has a specification for an “immersive audio container” posted on the web, which describes itself as “a codec-undefined audio bitstream format for rendering 3D audio fields that can be used to play multichannel audio.” For HDR, the group wants to adopt the HDR10+ standard, which was originally cooked up by Samsung but lacks content.

It is not yet known what consumer-facing brand these criteria will be for. That’s a big deal, since the “Dolby” name still has a huge impact on home theater enthusiasts, meaning that streaming apps can market the Dolby brand as a premium add-on, driving demand for standards. Few companies have enough leverage in the media space to push a new standard, but Google is one of them. As we’ve already seen with the AV1, pushing support into YouTube, Android, Chrome, and any device manufacturers looking to license access to YouTube is a solid cudgel.

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