H.264 is pretty much the de facto codec for video compression online these days. WebM isn't even supported in Android, nor just about anywhere else. So Google seems to have moved on to other projects instead of pushing for that. Now, H.265 is ready to swoop in and revolutionize the online video industry, or is it?
I wrote about H.265 some time ago and even then thought it could be more of a hindrance then a helpful upgrade option for online video. But first, some technical mumbo jumbo so you know what H.265 is all about.
What is H.265?
If you didn't read that last article (linked above) about H.265 (H.265, MPEG-H Part 2, the High Efficiency Video Codec) then you might not be up to speed on exactly what it is and what it is promising. So, here's H.265 in a nutshell.
- Stated as 2x as effective as H.264
- resolution up to 7680 × 4320
- 50% bitrate reduction with same quality as H.264 (smaller file sizes)
- Improved noise levels, color gamut and dynamic range
So it's set to cut file sizes in half without a loss of quality or, allow for 8K video (7689x4320) at 33.2 megapixels all the way up to 120 frames per second.
For Video Publishers
Great news! Keep HD quality and lower the bandwidth cost as well as the storage cost. Same quality at half the bitrate means half the file size means savings for you! Of course, it could also mean a series of new headaches because it's not going to be totally free. That was Google's whole plan with WebM, make something completely free. Right now H.264 is royalty free until the end of 2015 but not for everyone, right? It's royalty free when incorporated into something that is free to end-users. So if you've got a premium video subscription service, or are charging for almost anything, you need to pay. Also, at its discretion MPEG LA but simply stop offering new licenses to H.264 and force everyone to upgrade to H.265 at, of course, a hefty price increase. After all, it's 2x as effective as the old codec, so isn't that twice as valuable? Purely hypothetical situation on my part... I hope.
For Video Viewers
Considering that anti-consumer tactics of companies like AT&T and Verizon (and most Canadian ISPs) that meter bandwidth and charge extra for more usage (on what was supposedly "unlimited" data plans) are gaining momentum, H.265 could be a great thing for the video viewers. Granted, the viewers won't generally know that it's being used because who checks the underlying technology of the video player in say Netflix, as long as it works as desired, right?
All the user cares about, and should really need to care about, is how good the viewing experience is. They shouldn't have to worry about running over a data cap, they shouldn't have to worry about the codec, etc. Has anyone experienced a complete network slow down because someone was watching video? Hardly. H.265 could be a massive boon for consumers. Same quality, half the bandwidth means a big hurdle to streaming more video has been cleared. The big question for you, the reader, is how will you educate those end users about it?
Don't worry about streaming HD anymore, we've got you covered with new tech that means same HD quality for half the bandwidth! Get streaming!
Then again, AT&T might apply an H.265 surcharge just to make up the difference in lost data usage fees, and see nothing wrong with that tactic. The whole fact that ISPs attempted to charge for video differently than other data (which is fundamentally wrong, since it's all zeros and ones) makes me believe they'll find a way to do something like that again.
For the Online Video Industry
With H.265 just being accepted by the ITU it could be more than a year before it's integrated into any hardware. In fact, it's only just received first phase approval. It's not even finished yet. For the video techies out there, currently there is, "a ‘Main’ profile that supports 8-bit 4:2:0 video, a ‘Main 10’ profile with 10-bit support, and a ‘Main Still Picture’ profile for still image coding that employs the same coding tools as a video ‘intra’ picture."
They have work to do yet which includes, "a range of extensions to HEVC, including support for 12-bit video as well as 4:2:2 and 4:4:4 chroma formats. Another important element of this work will be the progression of HEVC towards scalable video coding. The three bodies will also work within the Joint Collaborative Team on 3D-Video (JCT-3V) on the extension of HEVC towards stereoscopic and 3D video coding."
Scalable video encoding. We might make that "more than a year," predictions of mine into, "at least 2 years." Granted, several companies have shown hardware implementations, many of them mobile phone chipmakers, but they are just tech demos at this point and will continue to be until H.265 is ready for prime time.
The good thing is, you all know it's coming and can starting planning for the future. The bad news is, some of you who run services, offer premium subscriptions, etc, will probably have to pay MPEG LA a sizable chunk of change to get it, when it's ready. MPEG LA has said its AVC Patent Portfolio License (which includes H.264) will continue not to charge royalties for Internet Video that is free to end users during the entire life of this License. It's said no such thing of H.265 yet. Remember, back in June last year, they already started pooling patent claims on it.
Start saving those pennies now.