Android 4.3 gets new VP8 video encoder – and DRM

android43Google’s Android 4.3 release of Jelly Bean seems to have been coming forever, but now that it’s finally released, there are a number of new media features that show Android is just about now all grown up.

The search giant details the new features in its developer’s website and among those features is a new VP8 encoder. VP8 is the video codec Google released to open source back in 2010 after it purchased video codec maker On2 Technologies. VP8 playback was added back in Gingerbread (Android 2.3.3) but this is the first time Google has incorporated an encoder into the operating system.

There is still contention over whether VP8 is patent-encumbered or not with Nokia reportedly taking HTC to court in March 2013 over patent claims for VP8.

While any device running Android 4.3 can encode VP8 video, newer devices will also be able to support hardware-accelerated VP8 encoding. However, Google doesn’t say anything about who, what or when these devices will be available. VP8 encoding is available to developers through the Android framework or natively through API calls.

A new option included will be the ability to encode video direct from an Android surface as an input option. Google gives the example of using an OpenGL ES surface to encode from, which would be like being able to capture screen videos of your gaming action for example.

Android 4.3 also includes a new media muxer or multiplexer. It gives developers the ability to combine an MPEG-4 video stream and an MPEG-4 audio stream into a single MPEG-4 file. Useful for video creation applications.

Given the recent release of Chromecast, the addition of new playback progress and scrubbing controls to Android 4.3 will be interesting additions. It will give the ability to provide greater remote control functionality to media player apps on Android 4.3 powered devices. So not only will you get playback timing information, but also the ability to jump to a specific video time location.

And finally, there’s possibly the most contentious of the new features – new digital rights management (DRM) functionality. It’s arguably the greatest sign that Android 4.3 is all grown up and wanting to attract big-name content providers to supporting the platform.

Straight from the Google Developer’s page:

To meet the needs of the next generation of media services, Android 4.3 introduces a modular DRM framework that enables media application developers to more easily integrate DRM into their own streaming protocols, such as MPEG DASH (Dynamic Adaptive Streaming over HTTP, ISO/IEC 23009-1).

Through a combination of new APIs and enhancements to existing APIs, the media DRM framework provides an integrated set of services for managing licensing and provisioning, accessing low-level codecs, and decoding encrypted media data. A new MediaExtractor API lets you get the PSSH metadata for DASH media. Apps using the media DRM framework manage the network communication with a license server and handle the streaming of encrypted data from a content library.

The inclusion already appears to have had the desired effect with Netflix announcing it will begin streaming 1080p-quality video to Android 4.3 devices over its Netflix client for Android app.

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