Buckle up your seat belt. Online video is about to get a much-needed jolt that will mean faster downloading and more storage space for your online videos. As an added bonus, it will deliver higher levels of video quality that were ridiculed only a few years ago.
HEVC – DOUBLE YOUR PLEASURE, DOUBLE YOUR CAPACITY
One of the worst kept secrets in the digital video world is that a new video compression/decompression (codec) standard is about to emerge. Its formal name is High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC), but the technical label is H.265. HEVC stems from a long line of the Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG) digital audio and video compression technologies going back to MP3 audio. The group has steadily advanced through a chain of products including MPEG-2 and MPEG-4 that have had tremendous impact on video.
H.265 is the successor to H.264, the Advanced Video Coding (AVC) codec. H.264 is widely acclaimed to be the most used codec on the Internet today because it can pack high-quality video into a small package. Smaller is better when it comes to video online, and even more so when playing video on mobile devices. H.264 is most often associated with the MP4 file format container, but Flash (FLV) and other file formats can also use the codec. H.264 is so versatile; it can deliver 1080p high-definition (HD) online video at 4Mbps, while also being able to crank up that bit rate ten fold to make pristine quality Blu-ray discs.
As good as H.264 is, HEVC or H.265 is being touted as having roughly double the efficiency of H.264. What does ‘efficiency’ mean? In practical terms, it means that H.265 can deliver the same quality as H.264, but at half the bit rate of H.264. Efficiency means:
- Faster downloading, since it takes half the time to download half the bits.
- Storage is cut in half for the same amount content.
- Twice the amount of video can be online because the Internet bandwidth doubles.
- Streaming video, typically delivered at a lesser quality than download, will improve greatly.
These side-by-side, comparison images (below) of H.265 and H.264, showing their respective bit rate and file size figures, illustrate this doubling of efficiency.
WHAT HEVC DOES FOR VIDEO STORAGE AND HOW IT WORKS
These features alone are welcome news for everyone, from online video platforms, content providers, hardware manufacturers, and certainly video consumers. With video predicted to account for nearly 90% of the traffic on the Internet by 2015, HEVC can act as a much needed pressure release valve. Video is a data hog, sucking up huge amounts of bits and bytes that can literally bog down the global networks.
Without getting too technical, H.265 takes a different approach to analyzing and processing images for compression. Rather than parsing the image in a uniform grid, the algorithms first determine what motion is present. It then allocates pixel blocks ranging from 64×64 to as small as 4×4 pixels, according to the amount and detail of motion with those respective sections. This variable block-size method allows larger areas to be encoded at one time.
The first beneficiaries of HEVC/H.265 will be mobile devices that support video. The combination of HEVC’s lower bit rates takes a burden off the mobile devices’ processors. It also allows twice as much video to be stored in the same limited onboard memory available on mobile devices.
NOW, SOME REALLY FANCY STUFF HEVC CAN DO
If you thought your 60” 1080p plasma display running Blu-ray discs was the end-all, be-all for HD, set that misconception aside. Yes, HEVC/H.265 will make things better, faster and smaller for the current generation of high-definition (HD) content. Built-in to HEVC’s specifications is its ability to deliver even higher quality video, called 4K and 8K Ultra High Definition.
These video standards almost make your 1080p set up look like a postage stamp in comparison.
Each jump in video standards doubles the dimensions of the image, which means it contains four times the number of pixels. Super Vision/Ultra High Definition 8K is way out there. However, the BBC used 8K projections during the recent Olympics for limited events at special venues. Digital Cinema 4K workflow has been used regularly in Hollywood for high-end digital filmmaking and effects work in recent years. Numerous digital theaters around the world are also equipped with 4K projectors.
If you think 4K Ultra High Definition is just for going to the movies, think again. YouTube actually has 4K content available online right how. Vimeo has this, and be assured others will follow. Sony’s PlayStation 4 may support 4K resolutions. That’s nice, but brace yourself for having to shell out 30-grand for their new 80-inch, 4K, XBR LED TV in order to watch.
The common denominator among these standards is HEVC/H.265. It was built not only to make the current 1080p HD technology run efficiently online and especially on mobile devices, but it also has a close eye on the current trends and requirements for even higher quality video.
HEVC IS RIGHT AROUND THE CORNER
Having been in development for years, working its way through the numerous revisions and approvals, the final draft version should be ready for publication early this year. H.265 is still new, so you’re not going to be doing much H.265 encoding on your standard desktop or laptop computer right away. Many questions still surround HEVC. Will it replace H.264 as the video codec proposed by Apple and others (and opposed by Google) for use in HTML5?
How long will this halving of bit rates, giving us faster downloading, doubling storage and freeing up much needed bandwidth on the Internet will last?If we can download video faster, we will. If there’s more room on the Internet, it will be occupied. If there’s more storage available, it will be used. If higher quality videos, requiring higher bit rates are demanded, they will be created. It’s like turning a busy two-lane road into a six-lane highway. In no time, those extra lanes will too be jammed. But, for now, HEVC will turn the Internet highway into an electronic Autobahn.
Given the choice, would you rather download twice as fast at the same quality, or double the quality at your current download speed? Are you willing to allocate more storage space for even higher quality video, or save space for what’s good enough? One thing H.265 will do in freeing up bandwidth is enabling 3D TV. Is that something you’d like to have?