A hot topic right now is the new video coding standard called HEVC (High Efficiency Video Coding), also known as H.265. First published in early 2013, this next-gen compression technology is expected to provide twice the compression of MPEG-4 (aka H.264), resulting in huge cost savings for operators.
The idea is that HEVC will allow operators to do more with less as they struggle to manage the heavy demands that video streaming puts on their networks, while paving the way for the future of 4K Ultra HDTV content.
But what does HEVC mean for operators already delivering IP video?
History suggests that commercially viable adoption of HEVC is still years away. If you remember the days when MPEG-4 HD encoding cost $15,000 per channel, then you understand where HEVC is today.
Let’s look at the adoption timelines for earlier technologies:
- MPEG-2 was formalized in 1996 – 18 years ago – yet many video providers still have substantial numbers of MPEG-2 and SD-only set tops in the field.
- MPEG-4 was formalized in 2003 – 11 years ago. Despite the bandwidth savings, early adoption rates were low due to high initial costs. Uptake has increased dramatically over the past few years as companies like Inca have driven down the cost of transcoding.
Although it’s taken 11 years, a significant number of set top boxes deployed now support MPEG-4 HD playback. And since MPEG-4 is the defacto standard for streaming video on the web, virtually all smart phones and tablets are capable of playing it. HEVC, by comparison, is at the very beginning of this cycle.
Compared to MPEG-4, it takes roughly ten times the resources to create HEVC video. Playback is much more complex too. This creates a classic chicken and egg situation: not only is it expensive to make HEVC video, but HEVC-capable playback devices are not yet widely available.
In order for 4K UHDTV to truly take off, it needs to surpass the viewing experience of today’s HD standard. However, deployment of these services to the home will require HEVC in consumer devices, including set-top-boxes and other necessary connecting technologies both in production and in the home. This suggests it will be four to six years or more before HVEC gains significant traction.
MPEG-4 still dominating
The good news is that there has never been a better time to deploy MPEG-4 and enjoy its superb compression and quality. With transcoding costs at a fraction of what they were even four years ago, you can now build an entire intelligent MPEG-4 headend for just a few hundred thousand dollars. Not long ago that would have been a multimillion dollar project.
With Inca’s advanced MPEG-4 compression, it is possible to deliver HD channels in as little at 4 Mbps, enabling you to reach more customers with a profitable service.
And when you invest in a modular platform like Inca’s 4400 series, you are in a position to add HEVC transcoder modules when they become available in the future.
Shiny new things are attractive, and in a few years HEVC will start playing a bigger role, but what is most important today is making intelligent equipment decisions that power a profitable service.