What Is H.265?

Posted on by Sudd

One of the key new codecs for all of us in 2015 is H.265; also called HEVC. The reason media professionals need to learn about this is that it will, fairly quickly, replace H.264 as the codec of choice for the web.

BACKGROUND

HEVC (High-Efficiency Video Coding) started development in 2007, with the standard formally published by the ITU-T on June 7, 2013.

What publishing this spec meant was that H.265 was firm enough that developers and hardware manufacturers could finalize their initial HEVC products. However, finalizing a spec is not the same as releasing a product.

After the initial flurry of press interest, the HEVC spec continued to evolve. 2014 saw the release of the second version of the standard supporting higher bit-depths, 4:2:2 and 4:4:4 chroma sampling and scalable extensions. Work is continuing on support for 3D video.

According to Wikipedia, “On September 29, 2014, MPEG LA announced their HEVC license which covers the essential patents from 23 companies. The license is US $0.20 per HEVC product after the first 100,000 units each year with an annual cap.”

WHY THIS CODEC IS NECESSARY

Video files are huge. Even compressed video files are enormous. H.265 was designed to reduce cellular network congestion, improve compressed image quality, and decrease bandwidth costs when streaming media.

NOTE: According to tables supplied by ITU-T, at the same bandwidth, we should see a file size reduction of around 40%, when compared to H.264.

Additionally, H.265 supports image sizes up to 8K (8,192 x 4,320 pixels).

Another big benefit, to producers, is the H.265 supports parallel processing, something that H.264 does not natively support, which means that compression will take full advantage of multiple processors, cores, and graphics processing units (GPU) allowing us to compress files far faster than we can today.

WHERE WE STAND NOW

The overall roll-out is slow. First, because AVC and H.264 are well-entrenched in hardware decoders. Second, because in order to use HEVC we need full support for encode (compression) and decode (playback). There’s nothing worse than compressing your latest opus only to discover that your clients can’t play it.

Currently, a number of devices support, or have announced support for, HEVC decoding (playback) including:

WHAT WE CAN USE TO CREATE THESE FILES

Currently, the following software supports H.265. (This is not a complete list.)

Adobe has said that they don’t have plans to support H.265 for the next 3-6 months. (However, that may change around the time of NAB when Adobe traditionally releases a major upgrade to all its video products.)

Apple Compressor does not support H.265, though Apple supports H.265 in FaceTime. While Apple does not comment on future products, the fact that they added HEVC to FaceTime means that they are doing more than just thinking about adding support. Again, I would expect Compressor to add this codec within the first half of 2015.

Telestream has not released support for H.265, though it demonstrated HEVC support at NAB 2014 for its Vantage products. While Episode does not currently support H.265, again, I expect that to change; perhaps as early as NAB 2015.

MPEG Streamclip and Wondershare Video Converter Ultimate do not currently support H.265.

WHERE TO GO TO LEARN MORE

Wikipedia has a good writeup, though it gets more and more technical as the article progresses. However, if you scroll to the bottom, you’ll see a number of related websites that can be helpful to learning more.

Jan Ozer wrote a nice technical overview for StreamingMedia.com on the technical side of H.265.

Vcodex.com has a variety of tutorials and demo files here.

Jan Ozer, again, with a look at the software currently supporting H.265.

 


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8 Responses to What Is H.265?

  1. Al Davis says:

    FYI – never a dull moment:
    “YouTube, aiming to improve current HD video delivery and chart a course to Ultra HD, has lined up 19 consumer-electronics partners to support a Google-owned video compression technology.

    The move could set the stage for an industry fight over which next-generation codec becomes the prevailing way to stream Ultra HD video, also referred to as 4K, which offers four times the resolution of current high-def but also consumes more bandwidth.

    For its push into 4K video, YouTube is adopting VP9, an open-source codec maintained under the Google-backed WebM initiative. In doing so, YouTube — which carries clout as the Internet’s No. 1 video site by a long shot — is spurning the HEVC (High Efficiency Video Coding) specification, which has been considered the def facto technology among many device manufacturers, distributors and content owners.”

    • Sigh…

      Yup, H.265 and VP9 are both duking it out for 4K. I am completely unimpressed with WebM, though, so I’m somewhat skeptical of VP9.

      On the other hand, YouTube will most likely support any format for upload, and hide its use of VP9 on the backend.

      When the elephants start dancing, the rest of us need to watch our toes.

      Larry

  2. Pingback: The Next Generation High-Efficiency Video Coding - HEVC (H.265) Overview | 4K Shooters

  3. markK says:

    Good news to share ! But if I want to edit the H.265 in my FCP, are there any way to solve it ?

    • MarkK:

      To the best of my knowledge, no. H.264 is a distribution format, not for acquisition or editing.

      Larry

      • cjplay says:

        H.264 is used for prosumer and consumer acquisition all the time (i.e. Mobile Youtube Uploads, Sony Camcorders). AVCIntra sound familiar? Given the Async nature of the codec and GPU support, I would imagine it works well for editing. Better than J2K to be sure. 🙂 To see H.265 Main12 4:2:2 Intra-only in FCPX would be great, not to mention small, but I don’t see it coming from a Mac software provider.

  4. Hal Fisher says:

    I am still trying to get a response from the 4 big “Pro” video editing software makers as to when they expect they will offer NATIVE HEVC support but nothing so far! Only editing software that will support H.265 so far is a small “beginner’s” editor from Cyberlink. What’s holding back massive software makers?

    • Larry says:

      Hal:

      For the first six months after the spec was approved, there was a lot of debate on how this new compression codec should be implemented. After that initial period, I haven’t been able to get a definitive answer.

      My suspicion is that HEVC support will be implemented in hardware, rather than software, to get the performance necessary. If that is the case, that would explain the delay. Creating new chips takes a couple of years.

      Larry

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