TechCrunch has recently reported that Apple has quietly acquired WaveOne, a Mountain View-based startup that developed AI-powered video compression algorithms. WaveOne’s website was shut down around January, and former employees, including one of the co-founders, already work in Apple’s machine learning group. Apple declined to comment on the acquisition.
WaveOne was founded in 2016 to augment the old paradigm of video codecs with AI. Its main innovation lies in its content-aware video compression and decompression algorithms that leverage AI accelerators in many smartphones and PCs. By leveraging AI-powered scene and object detection technology, WaveOne can “understand” a video frame and prioritize faces, for example, to save bandwidth at the expense of other elements. WaveOne also developed video compression technology resistant to sudden connection interruptions, so when bandwidth is limited, the video will not freeze but show less detail and continue playing.
WaveOne’s approach is hardware-agnostic, so it performs better in complex scenes and can reduce video file sizes by up to half. Before Apple’s acquisition, WaveOne received $9 million in investments from Khosla Ventures, Vela Partners, Incubate Fund, Omega Venture Partners, Blue Ivy, and others.
Efficient streaming is the most probable way for Apple to take advantage of AI-powered video codecs. Even small improvements in video compression technology can save bandwidth costs and allow higher resolutions and frame rates for content delivered by services such as Apple TV+. Rival YouTube is already doing this. Last year, Alphabet’s DeepMind applied a machine learning algorithm originally developed for playing board games to the YouTube video compression problem, reducing the amount of data it needs to stream to users by 4%.
We may see similar innovations coming from Apple’s WaveOne team shortly. Video compression using AI technology improves the video viewing experience on the internet and makes it easier to use video content even in places with limited communication environments. With Apple’s acquisition of WaveOne, we can expect further evolution in video compression technology.