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H. 265: Moving the Industry Forward--but Not Quite Yet

H. 265: Moving the Industry Forward--but Not Quite Yet

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) recently approved a new standard called High Efficiency Video Codec (HEVC) or H.265. This new standard has promised to provide the same video quality as H.264 at half the bandwidth.

This is a huge leap forward in online video streaming, making HD content streamable to more consumers on more devices--including mobile devices. It is pretty incredible to think that only a decade ago H.264 was just being ratified and the streaming of high-quality SD was beginning to become available over the Internet. And now, we are replacing these relatively young standards with high-quality HD as the standard for streaming video.

Besides quality and bandwidth improvements, H.265 has other features that will influence how people view video in the future. Video can be optimized for parallel processing--which means that different parts of the video can be decoded at the same time, or various areas of the video can be decoded first. This could provide better loading of video, especially if the video contains multiple views.

The H.265 standard has some holding power as the next mainstream standard that could be used widely for a long time. The standard makes reference to some of the longer-term capabilities to improve the quality of videos and still-images. On the streaming side, there is support for UltraHD or 4K video which quadruples the number of pixels on large screens and it might be possible to support video up to 8K. UltraHD can reach resolutions of 8192x4320, which is 16 times larger than what most HD televisions (1920x1080) can display. As for still images, H.265 can support up to 33-megapixel images which is two to three times the number of megapixels professional photographers use.

So, the big question is always, "When can I start streaming and viewing content with H.265?" And, with video, the answer is always, "Not for a while." A lot needs to happen before H.265 can widely deploy. For example, we need chip manufacturers to support these higher resolutions and encoding companies need to be able to create this premier level of content. Although there will be a lot of talk about H.265 this year along with some awe-inducing demos at trade shows, it is more likely to become mainstream in roughly three to four years. H.264, the current standard for web streaming referenced earlier, took numerous years before it took off and every video codec before it had similar timelines.

The one potential factor that might speed H.265 adoption is that little technology juggernaut known as Apple. Apple’s iPad comes with support for H.265 and it has been speculated that the next generation of Apple TVs will also support H.265. It is very likely that Apple might decide to drive this new standard, which would push uptake faster.

The bottom line: streaming technology is advancing at a rapid pace, but there are many factors and industry players that will influence the timing and fate of H.265. Nevertheless, it's exciting to think of the even higher quality viewing experiences we can look forward to in the relatively near future.