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.
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.
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.