The entire video industry has become pretty much standardized on H.264, better known as MPEG-4 AVC, for encoding video, be it streaming or off a Blu-ray disc. With network bandwidth straining in places, though, and 4K video becoming way more of an actual thing, the need for a new video codec has been looming like a dark shadow.
Luckily, the light has broken through the clouds, and the future of video is here. H.265 (that’s one more, isn’t it?) has been approved, and it even has its on acronym, too: HEVC (which stands for High Efficiency Video Coding). Derivatives of this codec are the likely backbone of Sony and RED’s new 4K playback machines, which fit 4K video into the same sizes that today’s 1080p lives in (45-50GB). The real focus here, though, is obviously on streaming video. H.265 will also go a long way in reducing strain on networks, as new phones, tablets, Blu-ray players, and set top boxes adopt the standard.
Video codecs only get more efficient as time goes on. When Blu-ray first started, AVC encodes of movies over two hours were scraping 40GB on a high quality encode, and now the same level of excellence is regularly delivered at under 30GB.
Of course, more sophisticated compression like this carries with it the need for greater computing power to decode it, so it’s likely going to be two or three years before the decoding hardware become cheap enough to make H.265 the kind of commodity that 264 is now — in other worlds, included in every piece of hardware that looks cross-eyed at a piece of video. The best hope for a fast conversion of standards is for streaming video companies like Netflix to do their part in making sure that the hardware is cheap and easy to swap out in existing designs as quickly as possible. The bandwidth they save, of course, will be their own.