Images from The Cable Show 2013, held June 10-12 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C. (Photos by John Staley)
The Video Compression Wizards Aren't Done
Here comes HEVC -- the High Efficiency Video Coding spec, which gained initial ITU approval in January (see ITU OKs Next-Generation Video Codec Standard).
It’s the most significant advance in video compression in a decade. The big win? It’s engineered to reduce bandwidth by 50% compared with MPEG-4, while potentially delivering even better quality. Recall that MPEG-4 achieved 50% gains over the older MPEG-2, introduced in the ’90s but still in wide use by cable operators.
HEVC has several more stages to go through before it’s officially ratified. But in football terms, HEVC is in the “red zone,” according to Mike Callahan, senior director of product management at video-encoding vendor Elemental Technologies. He spoke on a webinar I moderated today that was sponsored by Elemental.
IDC analyst Greg Ireland, who also participated in the webinar, said that in addition to helping deliver video across bandwidth-constrained mobile networks, HEVC could be a boon to over-the-top video providers -- he mentioned Intel’s pay-TV gambit -- as well as make it feasible to distribute Ultra HD (4K) video.
So, is HEVC/H.265 the last big breakthrough in video compression? Are we reaching the edge of the asymptote?
Probably not, according to Callahan: He predicted that with ever-faster processors, even more bandwidth could theoretically be squeezed out of the picture. The industry will continue to take advantage of Moore’s law, he said, and -- more on the art side of video compression technology -- find new ways to trick the human perceptual system.
In the near term, mobile devices that support HEVC are expected to start hitting the market in the fall of 2013 with service provider deployments of HEVC-based video in 2014, according to Callahan. Elemental surveyed its customers and found that about two-thirds of them are interested in starting testing on HEVC within the next eight months, with 43% indicating they wanted to start ASAP.
Another point Callahan made, though, is that while HEVC promises major bandwidth gains, it comes at a cost: HEVC encoders will require somewhere between three to five times the processing power needed by today’s MPEG-4/AVC platforms. HEVC will require more horsepower on the device side as well, meaning your current iPhone won’t be able to support it.
So how rapidly HEVC will ramp up is an open question but it's clearly a very interesting technology, no matter where you are in the TV/video food chain.
An archive of the webinar will be accessible here, starting March 1 after 2 PM Eastern.
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