If the many patent holders around the next big video codec don't get too greedy we might see some really cool Internet video products in the next few years.
Amazon, Apple, Google or Netflix could reshape the market for high def movies and TV shows over the Internet by adopting the newly minted HEVC codec.
The high efficiency video coding standard, also known as H.265, promises to cut in half the size of an HD movie file or reduce the bandwidth needed to stream it. Imagine what that might mean to a future Apple iTV.
Andrew G. Setos (below) is already thinking about it. The veteran audio-visual engineer and Apple fan said Apple is one of the companies who could make a market with the help of HEVC.
“HEVC needs a patron, a big benefactor,” Setos told me in his Pacific Palisades office. “I would hazard a guess it could be something like iTunes, Amazon or other Internet distributors."
Historically, major advancements in video coding have had a company or product that turned the technology into dollars, Setos noted. DVD makers and satellite TV providers turned MPEG-2 into two huge video industries. The two forces also propelled today’s MPEG 4, Part 10 (aka H.264) with their Blu-ray disks and high def sports via satellite TV.
These video codes need a sugar daddy who will dump millions into creating great encoders. They also open a market big enough to attract chip makers to design low cost decoders.
Now it’s time for HEVC. Setos notes Internet video is still a frustrating experience for all but the top 10 percent of viewers who have data plans with mega bandwidth to the home. As for wireless video, pshaw!
An HEVC-powered Apple iTV linked to a similarly outfitted iTunes service could generate the encoder excellence and decoder volumes needed to give users fast, smooth downloads and streams. Amazon could do the same, linking a next-gen Kindle Fire to its online video services. Netflix is in a similar position with its online service and over-the-top boxes from Roku and smart TVs from supporting consumer giants.
“Consumers are embracing over-the-top video, but the quality has to get better,” making the sector a likely driver for HEVC, said Brad Hunt, a veteran Hollywood tech consultant I had lunch with recently.
I'm much more interested in seeing widespread support for the upcoming VP9 codec, which depending on when it's released (probably this year) could be even better and more efficient than HEVC.
The Internet will have to switch to a new codec anyway, whether it's HEVC or VP9, and there's no inherent advantage like compatibility or anything like that to HEVC. In fact it may even be easier to convert from h.264 to VP9 for video sites as you can encode for multiple resolutions in the same time I believe, while you can't do that with HEVC.
VP9 is not the first proprietary codec, nor is it the first to be offered for free. Industry tends to shy away from uncertain licensing regimes for fear of bait and switch or worse, essential patent holders surfacing later. The MPEG model creates a level of comfort that has obviously worked in the past. And in attendance at MPEG are the best minds in compression and reps from various stored program platforms (other than x86 machines) to ensure wide usability and the best efficiencies. It is doubtful that any one enterprise, even one as well staffed as Google, can muster this sort of expertise and broad agenda. And the feature that is mentioned above is an encoder implementation component that any codec can be built with.
Rick, as far as I know, cable companies use MPEG-2 compression only (H.262). Just like over the air TV. Internet TV is where H.264 is used extensively.
But more to the point. Yes, royalties are a big deal, of course. But leaving that aside, does a codec need a sugar-daddy? Or does it need a killer application? My thinking has always been, it needs an obvious requirement, a killer app.
MPEG-2 was essential for DTV and HDTV. Therefore, it was adopted. And like any standard, it's great initially, to ensure interoperability, but eventually the standard becomes a hindrance to progress.
AVC was essential for acceptable quality Internet streaming, over the popular broadband Internet speeds. (It's really quite good, even when viewed on HDTV sets with ADSL for broadband.) And AVC was also essential for HDTV from satellite TV. Two killer apps.
Sugar-daddy or no, I think HEVC is essential for 4K video. It makes 4K video viable over many different media, just as MPEG-2 made HDTV viable. My bet is, if people go into stores and fall in love with 4K video, HVEC's future is cemented. If not, it's just like asking the question, how come OTA and cable TV have not migrated to H.264? Answer: too much hassle for too little gain.
Yes, cable MVPDs still use MPEG2. Many systems are constrained for bandwidth, but the economics of migrating all those set-top boxes to H.264 clearly has not yet been favorable -- like you said, too much hassle for too little gain.
I agree that HEVC will be essential for 4K UHDTV to become mainstream, but I think that even without UHDTV, HEVC will be a huge boon for mobile video. Yes, internet TV in general is hampered by speed issues for all but the fastest broadband connections, but it is far worse for the average mobile viewer.
Even when LTE becomes more ubiquitous and mobile download speeds are less of an issue, carriers are moving toward pay-for-use data plans, which will still give most users reason to pause before watching lengthy videos over a cellular connection. But with HEVC cutting the amount of data in half, that constraint is greatly reduced.
Good point about wireless broadband in mobile devices. That would benefit from all the compression efficiency possible, and the handheld devices have a short lifespan anyway. So that might help push HEVC along.
But in these applications, the improvement won't be to cut bit rate by half. These systems already use H.264. I doubt any are still doing MPEG-2 compression? Going by the popular guesstimates, I'd expect no more than a 25-30 percent drop maximum, depending as always on the source material. Still significant, though.
I take claims like that with a grain of salt, Rick.
The whole point of VP8 and VP9 is to avoid having to pay royalties, not to develop a technically better codec. And there's an army of companies developing the MPEG compression schemes.
So I find it very unlikely that improvement over HEVC would be real, long lasting, or across the board. Besides, HEVC encoders will continue to be improved too, as all other generations of encoders have been. H.262 encoders, for example, those used for MPEG-2 compression, are now capable of at least twice the coding efficiency they had when they first came out.
If you look at the techniques used in H.262 vs H.264 vs H.265, you can see that the improvements are quite progressive and I'd say almost predictable. You allow bigger and smaller blocks, you allow more block aspect ratios, you tweak the entropy coding schemes permitted, you allow interframes to be spread further apart, you use filtering techniques to mask blocking artifacts.
The VP series don't take a drastically different approach in achieving compression. They're still discrete cosine transform (or the derivative integer transform) algorithms, so at best, any improvement might be slight. All of these schemes have to deal with the realities of computing power, especially in the encoding devices, so I doubt any real advantage with VP9 (except the royalty issue, perhaps).