WebM and HEVC: Ultra HD codecs in Premiere and After Effects

WebM export through Adobe Media Encoder

Brendan Bolles of fnord software released beta versions of open source WebM and Theora plug-ins for Premiere that allow import and export of WebM movies through Adobe Media Encoder. And that common Mediacore plug-in bundle also lets you import WebM, with the new VP9 codec for Ultra HD, into After Effects and export through Adobe Media Encoder (AME).

In addition to Google's WebM format, the fnord software also opens Xiph.org Theora video, Ogg Vorbis and FLAC audio files, and WebP stills in Photoshop. Also provided is a little Window in AME for custom arguments for encoder parameter adjustments. There's no word on the newer Daala codec from Mozilla, Xiph.Org, and others. Another use for WebM is cinemagraphs and high-quality GIFs; see What Is WebM, and Can It Dethrone the GIF? at Vice.

Brendan says that “There is talk of supporting alpha channels and lossless compression in the future. If they follow through, WebM could become a reasonable movie format for use in production.” fnord's AdobeWebM lets you encode VP8 or (slowly) VP9, the royalty-free codec alternatives to the H.264/H.265-HEVC codecs at the core of most other ultra high-definition (4K aka 3840 × 2160) implementations.

CNET's Ty Pendlebury posted a nice primer for consumers, What is 4K UHD? Next-generation resolution explained.


Though there are encoders, right now you can only play WebM natively in Chrome, Firefox, and VLC Media Player. That seems to be changing with VP9, according to GigaOm:

“This time around, Google has lined up a whole list of hardware partners to kickstart VP9 deployment. YouTube will show off 4K streaming at the booths of LG, Panasonic and Sony. And on Thursday, YouTube released a list of 19 hardware partners that have pledged to support VP9, including chipset vendors like ARM, Intel, Broadcom and Marvell as well as consumer electronics heavyweights like Samsung, Sharp and Toshiba.”

Here's Google with last year's talk-talk on Google I/O 2013 – WebM and the New VP9 Open Video Codec WebM and the New VP9 Open Video Codec:


HEVC, with its uncertain royalties scheme, is perhaps 10 years behind the now widespread H.264, so it will be awhile for cost/benefit to balance for providers and consumers in equipment, software, and bandwidth. In time, bandwidth may not be a big change as encoder efficiencies improve, since WebM and H.265 advocates claim 50% file sizes over H.264. According to Jan Ozer in HEVC Playback and Dismal Device Battery Life, some report that H.265 also cuts battery life of devices by up to 50%. And in later testing, WebM claims seem overblown, with results only 18% better than H.264 — although encoder choice does effect results.

In September 2014, Jan Ozer answered the question HEVC: Are We There Yet? – noting that “if you've spent any time at NAB or IBC, you'd think that HEVC is ready for prime time. The reality is that, for almost every use case, it's nowhere close.”

Not claiming a codec, Netflix says their current high 5.8Mbps bitrate for a 1080p HD stream will be 15.6Mbps for 4K, a difficult target for most consumers, who will also need select UHD TVs for decoding.  You can encode to HEVC now with at least 2 consumer tools: DivX and Cinemartin Cinec (Cinec also exports to ProRes on Windows).

Cinemartin Plin is a plug-in for Adobe Premiere CS5.5, 6 and Pro CC (not AME) that allows export to ProRes and H.265 from the timeline.

fnord's AdobeWebM beta is a bit slow to encode (Google hasn't finished optimizing) and yields a larger file than the handy but limited alternative Miro Video Converter, which exports almost any video to MP4, WebM, Ogg Theora, etc for Android, iPhone, and iPad. Google is still doing code optimizations, so encoding should improve. There's a demo of Miro in Up and Running with HTML5 Video by Tom Green at lynda.com, and some older resources below:

Note: There's a list of current tools for creating WebM video at Google.


It's important to know the perspective of those who see that resources could be spent better elsewhere than bigger frame size alone, like David S. Cohen of Variety in Ultra HD TV: Not Ready for Primetime, CNET's Geoffrey Morrison in Why Ultra HD 4K TVs are still stupid, and Stu Maschwitz in CES 2014: TVs You Don't Need. Apparent resolution in normal viewing environments can be tricky; see if you might notice the difference between HD and UHD at Reference Home Theater in 4K Calculator – Do You Benefit? You could also go to Best Buy or similar and look at 1080i on the UHD TVs, since there's almost no content yet anyway. 

If you missed it, Adobe updated Premiere Pro for 4K workflows 6 months ago. For video, see 4K in Premiere Pro with Thunderbolt on HP here on PVC.

For those hungry for technical change after the failure of 3D – and those concerned about a shrinking TV market – there's How Netflix won CES: It’s not the TVs, it’s what you watch on them by Bryan Bishop on The Verge, and also a newer step on the treadmill with looming 8k broadcasting in Japan.



Rich Young

Rich Young is a long-time After Effects user from the San Francisco Bay Area. His After Effects and Premiere Pro round-ups provide viewers with an easy-to-digest summary of developments. He also supplies info and links for tutorials that allow users to do things in After Effects they thought were possible but weren’t sure.

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