New MPEG standard purportedly twice as efficient as H.264

Over the past few years, H.264 video compression has permeated just about every corner of the tech world—YouTube, Blu-ray, cable and satellite HDTV, cell phones, tablets, and digital camcorders. Could it be just a year away from obsolescence?

According to a news release by Ericsson, the Moving Picture Experts Group (a.k.a. MPEG) met in Stockholm, Sweden last month to "approve and issue" a draft standard for a next-generation video format. That format, dubbed High Efficiency Video Coding, or HVEC for short, will purportedly enable "compression levels roughly twice as high" as H.264.

Ericsson’s Per Fröjd, who chairs the Swedish MPEG delegation, comments, "There’s a lot of industry interest in this because it means you can halve the bit rate and still achieve the same visual quality, or double the number of television channels with the same bandwidth, which will have an enormous impact on the industry."

HVEC could make its debut in commercial products "as early as in 2013," claims Fröjdh. He expects mobile devices will be the first ones to make use of the new format, with TV likely to lag behind.

That all sounds rather exciting. Halving bitrates while maintaining image quality would be fantastic for streaming web video. It might be advantageous for devices with high-PPI displays, as well, if they can offer better image quality at today’s bit rates. However, hardware support could impede early adoption, since the hardware H.264 video decoders in today’s mobile processors might not be compatible with the new standard. (Thanks to TR reader Ryan for the tip.)

Comments closed
    • yammerpickle2
    • 7 years ago

    What I need more than twice as many channels is the next format be optimized for 4K resolutions at 120 Hz progressive so we can get past this dismal 1920 X 1080 60 Hz that I’ve been stuck at for last 10 years. I’ll gladly sacrifice twice as many lame channels for fewer quality high quality channels.

    • ronch
    • 7 years ago

    Like the number of different video formats still ain’t enough. Yeah, this new standard sounds great if it would make folks just drop some of the old formats that aren’t very popular anyway or some of those in the works that only serve to muddy the waters even further.

    • albundy
    • 7 years ago

    if it is this ultra compressed, then how will tablets handle decompression with their limited horsepower? i smell x265 on its trail.

    • Delphis
    • 7 years ago

    So I should hold off on the blu-ray transcoding? m’kay..

    • CityEater
    • 7 years ago

    Great, more lossy compression so we can squeeze more made for cinema movies “projected” on increasingly smaller screens. Look forward to spending 8 bucks on something that will be delivered to you on the equivalent of realvideo circa ’96.
    It wont be long before the dolby stream in the video will be as large as the actual video.
    Whatever happened to ‘wavelet’ compression?

      • jstern
      • 7 years ago

      I’m a little tired so I’m having a little trouble understanding your point, but it seems as if you took this news to mean that future videos are going to be compressed twice as much, thus producing a pretty horrible image, rather than the same quality video being twice as small.

      Well, I’m sure you meant something different.

      I for one can’t wait, these 1080p videos from my HD camcorder take up so much memory.

    • moog
    • 7 years ago

    Didn’t gizmodo post this a week ago?

    • jensend
    • 7 years ago

    The MPEG patent situation blows, and I really don’t want to be looking at formats that will be encumbered for another 20 years, no matter how much they claim it’s improved.

    I’m hoping something great will come of Xiph’s [url=https://xiph.org/daala/<]Daala video codec project[/url<], which is aimed at outperforming HEVC/H.265. Xiph's new [url=http://www.opus-codec.org<]Opus audio codec[/url<], which has just been approved as an IETF standard, already handily beats AAC and HE-AAC and does slightly better than the not-yet-really-publicly-available USAC/"Extended HE-AAC" codec. Opus decoding support is starting to land in a lot of applications, and the encoder will continue to improve. If they can pull off the same thing for video, it would be revolutionary.

      • glynor
      • 7 years ago

      I’m [i<]very[/i<] skeptical that Xiph will actually be able to produce a codec that is both (a) high-quality and (b) truly unencumbered. Now, I should add... Software patents are complete-and-utter crap. There's no way in hell they should be able to qualify for both patent and copyright protection, for starters. If we are really going to allow software patents (I'd say we shouldn't) then holders should be forced to relinquish source code. That is, after all, the whole idea of the patent system (you disclose the invention details for the public good, we guarantee a limited-term monopoly). It is totally bogus that MPEG-LA members can-and-probably-will claim patent infringement for anything that Xiph eventually releases. However, until we change the system... Color me skeptical. Theora is NOT anywhere near the quality of AVC, and a large portion of that has to be the hoops they jumped through to avoid the most egregious cases of infringement. And, even still, the MPEG-LA members still claim (without many details at all) that Theora isn't truly patent-unencumbered. The patents are so vague and broad, that it is nearly impossible to do anything both high-quality and truly "free". It is a sad state of affairs. I do wish that the tech community (which does all seem to generally agree on the evils of software patents, at least) would really band together to fix the real problem, rather than trying to work around a broken system.

        • jensend
        • 7 years ago

        Actually, the vast majority of the patents on MPEG formats do very little or nothing to improve the quality, and the vast majority of tools, algorithms, and ideas which do significantly improve quality are not covered by MPEG patents.

        The reason a lot of those patents are a part of the standard is because it is in the interest of each MPEG consortium member to make sure their own patents get into the format whether or not they’re useful. The resulting “patent soup” format is not guaranteed to outperform an unencumbered format, it’s just guaranteed to bring royalties to the [s<]cartel[/s<]consortium members- and protect them from each other. Mozilla and Google both have staffs of intelligent full-time IP lawyers who would not have permitted them to ship Theora or WebM if they thought a court would say they were infringing on MPEG patents. The much-vaunted MPEG WebM/VP8 patent pool hasn't produced a single patent they are even willing to insinuate actually applies to WebM/VP8. Vorbis is even more certain to be uninfringing. The claims that unencumbered formats can't be high quality are smoke and mirrors, fear, uncertainty, and doubt. The fact that Theora's reference encoder doesn't match x.264 has less to do with patents and more to do with 1) VP3 being a rather outdated baseline format, four years older than h.264 and contemporary with MP4 ASP i.e. DivX/XviD, and 2) insufficient encoder sophistication and tuning. In fact, the unreleased 1.2 "ptalarbvorm" version of Theora, which had significant psy optimization work, manages to do almost as well as WebM, but after WebM was introduced and work on Opus became urgent the Xiph folks pretty much stopped putting effort into Theora.

      • Deanjo
      • 7 years ago

      [quote<]I'm hoping something great will come of Xiph's Daala video codec project, which is aimed at outperforming HEVC/H.265.[/quote<] The thing is that if it comes out at the same time or later then H.265 then that war is already lost. The only way you will beat the MPEG group is to bring out a far superior codec well before the MPEG group is able to get their equivalent and get hardware manufactures to provide support. It isn't good enough to come out with an equivalent codec after MPEG group has released theirs. By then all the manufacturers have already licensed out MPEG's solution and adding another codec with no advantage is just added cost for them, even when they don't have to license it. That is something Xiph just can't seem to grasp.

        • jensend
        • 7 years ago

        h.264 was *finalized* as a standard in 2003, and it didn’t begin to catch on until 2006. Exclusive mobile device hardware acceleration for h.264 didn’t start to be a serious consideration until 2009, and that’s the point at which it [i<]really[/i<] started to be too late to introduce another h.264-equivalent codec (see reply to self for details). HEVC/H.265 won't be finalized as a standard until next year at the earliest, and Fröjd's claim that it will take the mobile world by storm next year is laughable given the development timetable for mobile devices. I'm not saying the Daala project has 7 years to get it together; it's going to have to happen fast if they want to beat h.265. But the fact that MPEG is announcing a [i<]draft[/i<] is not a sign that Daala is already too late.

          • jensend
          • 7 years ago

          Here’s the footnote.

          The fact that mobile devices have hardware acceleration for h.264 and not WebM is the only reason Google and Mozilla are backing down on h.264. The quality of the default WebM encoder (vpxenc) is just as good as most h.264 encoders out there, including those used by many major media providers. While state-of-the-art h.264 encoders like x.264 are slightly better, the difference is not noticeable in normal use (as opposed to e.g. frame-by-frame analysis).

          Google could have thrown considerable engineering resources at the encoder to help narrow the gap even further or even best x.264. On2, the folks Google bought VP8 from, had singlemindedly optimized for PSNR at the expense of more realistic metrics like SSIM as well as psy optimizations, and this continues to hurt vpxenc today; this could be fixed or (with a really significant investment) a new encoder could be written from scratch. As Jason Garrett-Glaser, lead developer of x.264, [url=http://x264dev.multimedia.cx/archives/541<]likes to say[/url<], "the encoder matters more than the video format, and good psy optimizations are more important than anything else for compression." If Google had seen good uptake of WebM hardware acceleration, I imagine they would have pushed WebM very very hard with Android, YouTube, and Chrome, and the format would have gotten significant marketshare. As it is, though they're still arguing for its use in WebRTC, they seem to have given up on it getting marketshare in many other ways, and Mozilla has caved in. The hope at this point is that things can be different in the next round of codecs.

          • Deanjo
          • 7 years ago

          The difference between then and now however is the hardware. Back in 2003 the display hardware in devices did not warrant a better codec. Hell there was hardly a HDTV to be found It was basically brought out to emerge bluray and future HDTV broadcasts. Streaming video to a mobile device was still a pipe dream, display’s rarely exceeded 240 pixels in any dimension. That has all changed. When the iPhone debuted all of a sudden you had a device that made video streaming a reality. Youtube scrambled to get all their content converted over.

          The video landscape changed drastically since h264’s introduction. Sure it takes a while for the switchover to occur but that codec standard was well in place before the devices came out.

          2003 Standard is finalized and bluray debuts with h264
          2004 Video cards start accelerating h264 decoding
          2006 highend consumer camcorders start using h264
          2007 modern era of smart phones kicks in, video streaming is alive and 3G networks start taking over
          2008 US digital tv crossover begins, every smartphone has h264 decoding and most feature phones do as well

          As you can see, h264 was taken very seriously well before 2009.

            • jensend
            • 7 years ago

            As I already said, I’m not claiming the transition would take seven years this time around. The industry and hardware changes will make the transition quicker. But it does take time, and you’ve completely distorted the facts in order to squeeze them into your story.

            Terrestrial HDTV broadcasts have been going on for much longer than you suppose- the first HDTV broadcasts went on air in 1998, and many markets had a number of channels broadcasting long before their countries’ analog switchover dates.

            Most HDTV is not h.264. In ATSC countries (US, Canada, Mexico, a handful of others) all terrestrial broadcasts are MPEG2. [url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_video_services_using_H.264/MPEG-4_AVC#Terrestrial_broadcast_adoption<]Wikipedia lists the only countries actually using h.264 for terrestrial broadcasting.[/url<] Blu-Ray didn't debut until 2006. Dunno what you're smoking on that one. There is no relation between Blu-Ray and HDTV. Nothing was "brought out to emerge [sic] bluray and future HDTV broadcasts." The much-vaunted nV PureVideo acceleration in the Geforce 6 and 7 series actually did practically nothing to accelerate h.264; they adapted their MPEG-2 acceleration blocks just enough to make h.264 a marketing bullet point. There were CPU-only decoders which managed better performance and quality than any first-generation PureVideo "accelerated" decoder. The first video card to actually [i<]accelerate[/i<] h.264 was the GeForce 8600, released in Apr. 2007. I think you could have could have counted the people who watched streaming h.264 on their smartphones before 2009 on your thumbs. The fastest phones of 2007-2008 did have some h.264 playback capabilities, but they were restricted to low-bitrate low-resolution Baseline profile (and sometimes even further constraints on the encoder feature used beyond Baseline profile, even though Constrained Baseline profile hadn't been defined yet). I don't know quite as much about the hardware providing that support, but I don't think significant and powerful fixed function h.264 decoding hardware really started appearing in phones until at least the first Cortex A8/Snapdragon generation of phones in early 2009, and of course encoding hardware came later.

            • Deanjo
            • 7 years ago

            First bluray player was shown off in 2003.

            Many early devices like the iPhone and iPod supported h264 as well (including the iPod classic 5th gen in 2005)

            As far as the hardware decoding vs software decoding that really doesn’t matter. Neither does the baseline vs high. What matters is that the spec was out and the manufacturers of those devices supported it. For Daala to get any kind of foothold that spec should have been done a long time ago. H265 devices are set to start appearing next year. By the time Daala comes to fruition it will be several years too late to gather any manufacturer attention.

            Also while OTA in NA is mpeg2, the majority of programming comes via cable/satellite and that is almost exclusively h264 in HD form. (My tv service started using it in 2006).

            Codec specs have to come out far ahead before the hardware supports it. It takes at least 18 months to spin silicon to support a new codec (that is the exact amount of time Google said in their WebM presentation). Realistically however it is more like 24+ months.

            Daala is too little and too late.

            PS My nokia feature phone in 2007 supported h264.

            Oh ya there was this little device called the PS3 that really kicked things along too.

            • jensend
            • 7 years ago

            No, what was shown off in 2003 was not a Blu-ray player. No Blu-ray video format existed at the time. They hadn’t settled on h.264, much less on all the surrounding details of the format. What was shown off in 2003 was drives with blue lasers. They all talked about how great it was that you could store two hours of HD MPEG-2 on it. They still hadn’t even ironed out the last details of the physical disc spec yet at that point. You’ve completely ignored the truth because you’re desperate to back up a story that just doesn’t match the facts.

            You’d better believe there’s a tremendous difference between having software support and having fixed-function pipelines. Existing software support in phones is no huge advantage to an existing codec and no major obstacle to adoption of a new one, especially in the day of over-the-air OS upgrades.

            You correctly observe that it takes a good bit of time to get fixed function hardware support, but you believe the incredibly absurd idea that hardware for a spec which won’t be final for another eight months, and is considerably more computationally complex than any previous video format, will be shipping in mass market phones next year. Who’s going to deliver that silicon in that kind of time frame? The MPEG fairy?

            You say Daala is too little and too late. You have no idea how big it is and you have no idea how late h.265 will actually be. Nor do I. We’ll have to wait and see. Your MPEG triumphalism is at least a year premature.

            • Deanjo
            • 7 years ago

            [quote<]No, what was shown off in 2003 was not a Blu-ray player.[/quote<] [url<]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blu-ray_Disc[/url<] [quote<]The first Blu-ray Disc prototypes were unveiled in October 2000, and the first prototype player was released in April 2003 in Japan. [/quote<] I also have the popular science issue from back then that backs up that fact. [url<]http://www.afterdawn.com/news/article.cfm/2003/03/03/sony_unveils_first_blu-ray_recorder[/url<]

            • jensend
            • 7 years ago

            Did you even read what I just said? Yes, doof, it was a prototype disk which was read with a blue laser. Yes, there were drives that could read from and write to such prototype discs. Those drives are not Blu-Ray players.

            A Blu-ray [i<][b<]player[/b<][/i<] is a device which [i<][b<]plays[/b<] the Blu-ray media format, BDAV,[/i<] from a Blu-ray disc. Seeing as that format didn't [i<]exist[/i<] in 2003, and every news article talked instead about how awesome it would was that this upcoming prototype format could store two whole hours of MPEG2 HDTV, your assertion that Blu-ray debuted in 2003 with h.264 is absurd. That portion of the Wikipedia article is simply wrong. Later on, it gives a better summary:[quote<] The Blu-ray Disc physical specifications were completed in 2004... The BD-ROM specifications were finalized in early 2006... [b<]The first BD-ROM players (e.g. Sony BDP-S1) were shipped in mid-June 2006[/b<], though HD DVD players beat them to market by a few months. The first Blu-ray Disc titles were released on June 20, 2006... The earliest releases used MPEG-2 video compression, the same method used on standard DVDs. The first releases using the newer VC-1 and AVC formats were introduced in September 2006. [/quote<]

            • Ringofett
            • 7 years ago

            I hate to burst bubbles, but 90% of people simply care that their video is working properly, not ideology on patents. h264 has suited the needs of the internet at large in general despite it’s patent issues, no reason h265 will not repeat that success. Like Deanjo is saying, you can talk all you want about time to market and the pro’s and con’s of software patents but you seem to agree in principle that the first mover advantage is huge here.

            If h265 is finalized first and gets embedded in hardware first, it wins. Game over. As long as everything still streams on their modern phones, tablets, latops and set-top boxes properly, the masses will be happy. As long as tools like Handbrake continue to cost nothing, most tech-inclined folks like the readership here will not really care. h265 vs. whatever will be no more relevant a discussion than how many angels one can fit on the tip of a pin.

            Maybe encoders and video and patents are your specialty so it excites you, and I can understand that, but this is reality and this is markets, business… realpolitik, if you will. And it looks like h265 has already won.

      • Visigoth
      • 7 years ago

      What happened to WebM? Hopefully they can create something awesome together that can dethrone the established mafia, because just like you, I’m beyond fed up with the current patent situation.

        • Deanjo
        • 7 years ago

        WebM was basically stillborn.

        • BobbinThreadbare
        • 7 years ago

        It’s worse than H264, and everyone is using x.264 without being sued so they don’t care.

        • jihadjoe
        • 7 years ago

        As the argument above implies, WebM was a little late to the party. Offering the same, if not slightly worse quality than H.264 just to avoid patents meant even a giant like Google couldn’t pull it off.

        Microsoft, on the other hand was pretty successful with VC-1 because they managed to get it out before H.264 became widely adopted.

        I agree with the the point raised that in order to beat a standard, you have to release product that’s significantly better than what’s available, and you have to release before the next revision of the standard (that’s comparable to yours) comes out.

      • Madman
      • 7 years ago

      I would actually love to have less video formats. Because current situation is awful.

      Web pages store x.264, WebM, WMA, FLV, or whatever side by side, just because every friggin device supports something different. Hardware circuitry for each of the decoders costs silicon.

      The tools to process are many, but none of them can do everything, no x.264 encoder license for example. No input codec, or something else.

      I’d rather have crappy free format than all this licensing and compatibility nightmare we have now.

    • bcronce
    • 7 years ago

    I wonder at which resolutions it gets the ~2x compression. As resolution go up, the more similarly colored pixels there are and the better your compression ratio.

    • Deanjo
    • 7 years ago

    The other thing that will determine adoption rate is the licensing. This is where Google screwed up with WebM, they brought out a product to compete with a well established codec waaaay to late. Instead they should have been developing a codec that went head to head with H265 before H265 is released.

    • slaimus
    • 7 years ago

    The a lot of the gains from H.265 is from standardizing higher internal color precision, which is already supported by x264 with the Hi10 profile. It just lacks standardized support in H.264 encoders and decoders.

      • plonk420
      • 7 years ago

      this.

      also, it took at least 1-1.5 years (for the regular 8-bit version) to be better enough than xvid and have enough player support for me to consider it. but happily, i haven’t looked back since. it also took about a year for encoders for blu-rays to be noticeably better than the competition as well.

      i suspect there won’t be any hardware support of 10bit h.264, either, which is a pity. or if there is, it’ll come just as h.265 starts hitting hardware.

    • nanoflower
    • 7 years ago

    Yes, I saw this in the news yesterday. I can safely say today’s decoders have no hope of decoding h.265 video (unless they can be updated like an FPGA.) So it will take a little time for this to come into wide use. Also there’s the fact that encoding is going to be inefficient at this time until people get more experience with it (especially for software implementations.) There probably will be some implementations available by summer (assuming the standard is approved early 2013) such as Qualcomm and Motorola Mobility have demonstrated but even then it takes time for companies to evaluate new chips and build products around them. So we might see very limited products using H.265 HEVC until 2014 or 2015 (especially if the cost of the new chips is much greater than the H.264 implementations.)

    Still I look forward to having the same or better quality video encoding with as much as a half the bit size. This will help mobile solutions but it’s going to be critical if Ultra-HD is ever going to be available for commercial use given how much bandwidth that takes up in each transport stream.

    • grantmeaname
    • 7 years ago

    [quote<]High Efficiency Video Coding, or [b<]HVEC[/b<] for short[/quote<] Wait a minute...

      • Meadows
      • 7 years ago

      I should add that he still hasn’t fixed it, and that’s not funny anymore.

        • jihadjoe
        • 7 years ago

        Number of thumbs up says otherwise =)

      • ronch
      • 7 years ago

      Some data got garbled in the compression. Obviously a lossy compression scheme.

    • KyleSTL
    • 7 years ago

    *HEVC. Not HVEC (used twice in the article). Spelling and grammar are one thing, but using an incorrect initialism is another.

      • Peldor
      • 7 years ago

      What? You never heard of compression artifacts?

        • derFunkenstein
        • 7 years ago

        that was pretty brilliant.

      • Anomymous Gerbil
      • 7 years ago

      Initialism?!

        • sweatshopking
        • 7 years ago

        i assume you know what it is, as you’re a smart cookie, but it’s an acronym that’s not said as a word. NASA when pronounced as NAASAW (that’s not phonetic at all…) is an acronym, as it kind of makes its own word. HEVC will be said as H E V C, and as such is an initialism.

        [url<]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acronym_and_initialism[/url<]

          • Noigel
          • 7 years ago

          Oh, you must be talking about Hevek…

          Bonus troll:
          No one uses Divix anymore?

          🙂

          • DancinJack
          • 7 years ago

          [quote<]NASA when pronounced as NAASAW[/quote<] I don't know anyone that pronounces NASA like that. Nassau is the capital of the Bahamas though.

            • sweatshopking
            • 7 years ago

            that’s why i said it’s not phonetic. i’m not good at that stuff.
            actually though, i have a friend from georgia, usa, and she says it like that.

            • DancinJack
            • 7 years ago

            The southern US is home to many different accents. Amazing to me.

            • derFunkenstein
            • 7 years ago

            More like NAS-suh

          • Anomymous Gerbil
          • 7 years ago

          Actually, I had never heard the term “initialism” before. One lives and (hopefully) learns! 🙂

      • Meadows
      • 7 years ago

      It’s Cyril. 🙂

      • TheEmrys
      • 7 years ago

      You are really calling someone out on inverted letters when you used Initialism? And I think you mean acronym.

    • BobbinThreadbare
    • 7 years ago

    Wow this sounds almost unbelievable.

    • Farting Bob
    • 7 years ago

    That would be insane compression if it really was that efficient. H264 is alreadt damn impressive, and you get the feeling that patents by various groups would prevent large leaps forward unless they all worked together.

      • glynor
      • 7 years ago

      They already do that, hence MPEG-4 ASP and AVC. See: MPEG-LA

      • mmp121
      • 7 years ago

      Hope they include 4K video in their spec, because 4K video @ HDTV bandwidth would be killer.

        • bcronce
        • 7 years ago

        “can support resolutions up to 7680 × 4320”

        [url<]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_Efficiency_Video_Coding[/url<]

      • Malphas
      • 7 years ago

      “you get the feeling that patents by various groups would prevent large leaps forward unless they all worked together”

      What do you think the point of MPEG is?

    • yogibbear
    • 7 years ago

    There’s a lot of industry interest in this because it means you can halve the bit rate and still achieve the same visual quality, or double the number of television channels with the same bandwidth, which will have an enormous impact on the industry.”

    Substitute “industry” with “porn”…

      • Farting Bob
      • 7 years ago

      Porn is part of the media industry.

      • eloj
      • 7 years ago

      Replace “it means you can halve the bit rate” with “patents”.

        • ermo
        • 7 years ago

        [quote<]Replace "it means you can halve the bit rate" with "patents".[/quote<] I'll try that: [quote<] There's a lot of industry interest in this because [s<]it means you can halve the bit rate[/s<] patents and still achieve the same visual quality, or double the number of television channels with the same bandwidth, which will have an enormous impact on the industry." Substitute "industry" with "porn"... [/quote<] The sentence in question does not look well formed to me? What did you really mean?

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