HEVC is overcoming a lot of barriers, but there’s still a long way to go for the new 4K compression standard

by on July 22, 2015

Stephan Jukic – July 22, 2015

High efficiency video coding or H.265 or finally, HEVC as it’s most commonly called is the next generation standard for compression of video transmissions that was developed with 4K resolution squarely in mind. However, despite some serious inroads into the world of 4K ultra HD display technologies, HEVC still has a long ways to go and its future still isn’t 100% clear.

Basically, while existing users of HEVC report that the technology is running relatively smoothly and improving as it becomes more widespread, deployment as a whole is taking a bit longer than expected.

Of course, this could partly be due to the simple fact that HEVC is designed more than anything for 4K resolutions and 4K itself is still not thoroughly deployed in the display and media player world. However, so far at least, all new 4K TVs that have emerged since the middle of 2014 have indeed included HEVC. It has essentially become a must-have feature. Likewise for media players. The upcoming 4K Blu-ray players and all existing models of similar devices also use HEVC across the board.

And this makes sense. The advantages of utilizing HEVC are obvious if 4K is your game. The technology is already well established in the resolution standards industry role and key OTT players like Netflix, Amazon Instant Video and just about all others who stream 4K video in any form indeed use HEVC.

However, according to Guillaume Arthuis, CEO and founder of BBright, “Latency had been the biggest showstopper for live 4K content” and accordingly, Arthuis claims that his company BBright has reduced said latency to less than 5 seconds for live content in 4K by developing 12-bit HEVC encoding for file-based programming. Furthermore, he states that the company has seen reduced form factors and declines in price at the same time.

Furthermore, the quality of video is being elevated as overall bit rates decrease at the same time. Thus, what we’re now seeing become a possibility for satellite and even IP transmission is the potential for two different signals being shipped across a single satellite transponder or even a single internet connection, as compression reduces 4K video down to 18 or 20 Mbps, and for high quality 4K coverage of fast-action events like sportcasts thanks to its unique compression algorithm:

HEVC compression diverges from older methods partly due to due to specific asymmetric block formations.

HEVC compression diverges from older methods partly due to due to specific asymmetric block formations.

As Thomas Burnichon, file transcoding product marketing manager at compression equipment company ATEME recently said, “We have improved compression efficiencies to reach 50% reduction that the standards expect.” The 50% reduction he was referring to was over the levels already attained by the previous H.264 standard used for Full HD content.  However, this 50% applies only to files (content that is already in hard or cloud storage) and not to live broadcasts. For live video feeds in 4K, compression remains at 30% but is slowly increasing for the sake of more feasible transmission.

The other side of this entire coin is the matter of transmission technologies themselves. While enhanced compression is definitely the quicker and cheaper route to more widespread 4K video delivery, expanding bandwidth in internet and other types of OTT transmissions is also a major potential game changer. The only problem is that this second avenue of greater UHD traffic will cost a lot more to achieve and require greater infrastructure investment.

Nonetheless, the appeal of improved HD and ultra HD and the future job of HEVC or a process like the standard (like Google’s rival VP9 compression standard) in bringing these technologies to a wider market is interesting. HEVC doesn’t simply have to be used for ultra HD –though this seems like the most probable future of digital video. It can also be used to deliver deeply augmented HD video, either with HDR built into it or in the form of HD delivered at much faster frame rates, which also have the capacity to create extraordinary picture quality, possibly of a kind even more notably superior looking to regular 4K content.

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