H.265 is Now Officially Approved, is 4K Streaming and Broadcast Just Around the Corner?
Technology’s progression sometimes moves with consistent momentum, and sometime comes in spurts. For instance, processors of mobile devices regularly decrease in size and price with relation to power — while, at the same time, the speed of your internet connection may not change much at all for several years, and make a great leap whenever it does. Both of these tendencies of advancement seem to inform High Efficiency Video Coding, A.K.A. H.265 — the successor to that other codec with which we’re all quite familiar (H.264). Improving efficiency by around double, H.265 aims to set the standard for the next decade in video streaming and encoding — and it’s going to ease mobile data congestion and likely make 4K a reality much sooner than many would have anticipated.
We’ve already gone into a bit (a bit! Get it?) of detail as to how H.265/HEVC accomplishes its magical compression tricks — it basically has a lot to do with intelligent prediction, multi-threading support, and other ‘hacks’ that put the weight/workload far more on your CPU than on your ethernet connection (or data bill). If you’re worried about support for the codec, it may make you feel a bit better to know, as the source for our previous post about H.265 mentioned:
A tremendous amount of activity in 2012 also has taken place within video display devices. In a report released in mid-December, Multimedia Research Group (MRG) estimated that the number of shipped units capable — with a software upgrade when available — of HEVC decoding reached 1 billion in 2012. For so many devices to be ready and waiting for HEVC is no mean feat.
The bottom line / major selling point of this codec is that half the bit rate is necessary for equivalent visual performance; the ever-growing internet video viewership (on mobile devices* or otherwise) has a lot to do with this, and each is tied in to the other. [*TechCrunch: "Since the launch of the iPad, the percentage of video published in H.264 has climbed from less than 10 percent to more than 84 percent in less than three years, according to MeFeedia."] In 2015, while we’re using about 90% of our bandwidth watching streams of moving pictures, they might as well be encoded “hard” enough to give us the most bang (or bits, I suppose) for our bandwidth-buck. Higher efficiency cuts both ways; as TechCrunch points out, low connectivity areas will benefit from equivalent quality (or much closer to it) while well-connected areas can access super hi-res content with far more reasonable stream times:
The ITU has approved a new video format that could bring 4k video to future broadband networks, while also making streaming HD video available even on bandwidth-constrained mobile networks. The H.265 standard, also informally known as High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC), is designed to provide high-quality streaming video, even on low-bandwidth networks.
In places where there is decent broadband connectivity, H.265 could enable even higher-quality video. With 4K TVs finally becoming available, there’s an opportunity for even greater video resolution. The only problem is that networks aren’t built to support the load that streaming that video would require. With H.265, 4K streaming could be possible with as little as 20-30 Mbps of bandwidth. Still a lot by today’s standards, but not completely unheard of.
It’s also pretty amazing how well RED’s specs seem to measure up to these; the REDRAY alleges a 2.5MB/sec rate for 4K playback, a figure that comes in at right about 20 Mbps — compare that to the 20-30 Mbps mentioned above, and you can see how competitively future-braced RED is being in its own 4K home theater plans. Of course, RED isn’t very likely to be licensing its proprietary 4K technology for use outside its REDRAYs — making the widespread use of H.265 an inevitability. TechCrunch continues:
Of course, just because the format has been approved doesn’t mean that we’ll start seeing video files shrink or lower bit-rate streams anytime soon. While there will likely be software-based encoders available by the end of the year, the codec won’t see mass adoption until it gets embedded into chips and hardware. It could be 12 to 18 months, maybe longer, before the first devices with H.265 hardware acceleration make it to market.
Though with that said, H.265 has plenty of patience to go around, because according to The Verge, “The ITU said that it envisions H.265 being able to support video needs for the next decade.” So: it’s surely ill-advised to hold your breath waiting for full H.265 support, but once it is, it may be even less advisable to wait around for its time to be up.