While people always talk about how each new Snapdragon chip benchmarks or its power efficiency, some of the things that matter most are the features that are often overlooked. Someday soon, you may want a phone that supports the newly announced H.266/VVC video codec. Fraunhofer HHI says its compression can deliver ultra high definition videos at half the size without sacrificing quality.

In collaboration with more than 30 other companies, Fraunhofer HHI formally announced the completion of its new H.266/VVC video compression standard. Readers of tech news are probably familiar enough with video codecs to have at least heard of H.264/AVC and H.265/HEVC, the previous video compression formats that have been widely adopted by much of the industry. Unlike these two previous codecs, H.266/VVC was designed from the beginning to be highly efficient with resolutions of 4k and above.

The announcement claims videos encoded with H.266 will appear visually indistinguishable from those encoded with H.265, but at about 50% the bitrate. In other words, they're both still lossy formats, and they won't be perfect twins down to every pixel, but you shouldn't be able to tell the difference just by looking at them; and whether they are simply stored on disk or streaming to you in real time, the video compressed by VVC should be about half the size.

In practice, this means you'll be able to effectively stream video over slower cellular and Wi-Fi connections, all without running up your data usage as quickly. Other video features like 3D and 360-degree scenes can also be made much smaller and easier to stream.

Even though the standard has been formalized, you're not going to see H.266 video popping right away. Tests of the reference software (available here) suggest it can be up to 10x more complex to encode than H.265, and 1.7x more complex to decode. This will make it impractical to use H.266 on mobile devices without hardware support. Fraunhofer HHI plans to release the first official software encoder and decoder later this year, and hardware designs are currently in development, but probably won't be ready until 2021.

Despite the big improvements in H.266/VVC, there are some challenges to overcome before it sees wide adoption. Much like H.265, the new standard is not free to license, and the licensing program hasn't been established outside of a promise that it will conform to a FRAND model (Fair, Reasonable, and Non-Discriminatory). Meanwhile, the AV1 codec is open and royalty-free, and some companies (e.g. Netflix and YouTube) are already using it to serve video to Android devices. Both standards will likely see some degree of adoption, but H.266 has substantially more corporate support from the likes of Microsoft, Apple, Sony, Qualcomm, and many others, which could play a big factor.