Google’s open media efforts have until now primarily focused on the development of codecs. The company acquired video codec maker On2 in 2009 to open source some of its technology; it has also played a significant role in the foundation of the Alliance for Open Media, an industry consortium that is overseeing the royalty-free AV1 video codec. Project Caviar is different from those efforts in that it is not another codec. Instead, the project focuses on 3D audio and HDR video formats that make use of existing codecs but allow for more rich and immersive media playback experiences, much like Dolby Atmos and Dolby Vision do. Baliga didn’t mention Dolby by name during his presentation, but he still made it abundantly clear that the company was looking to establish alternatives to the Atmos and Vision formats. “We realized that there are premium media experiences where there aren’t any great royalty-free solutions,” he said, adding that the licensing costs for premium HDR video and 3D audio “can hurt manufacturers and consumers.”
Dolby makes most of its money through licensing fees from hardware manufacturers. The company charges TV manufacturers $2 to $3 to license Dolby Vision, according to its Cloud Media Solutions SVP Giles Baker. Dolby hasn’t publicly disclosed licensing fees for Atmos; it charges consumers who want to add immersive audio to their Xbox consoles $15 per license, but the fee hardware manufacturers have to pay is said to be significantly lower. Still, in an industry that long has struggled with razor-thin margins, every extra dollar matters. That’s especially true because Dolby already charges virtually all device makers a licensing fee for its legacy audio codecs. A manufacturer of streaming boxes that wholesale for $50 has to pay around $2 per unit for Dolby Vision and Dolby Digital, according to a document an industry insider shared with Protocol. “For lower-cost living room devices, the cost may be prohibitive,” Baliga said during his presentation.
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