Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Coming H.265 Video Wave -- What It Means for Business, What It Means for Consumers

Move over H.264, which -- much to the chagrin of Google's WebM initiative -- is effectively "THE" high quality video codec standard and champion in the marketplace today to enable optimized online video experiences.  Coming early 2013, there may be a new contender -- and its name is H.265.

H.265 is the high-efficiency video encoding (HEVC) codec that has been the "buzz" of late in the world of online video, supplanting MPEG DASH (dynamic adaptive streaming over HTTP) in overall buzz-worthiness.  Tim Siglin of Streaming Media recently wrote a must-read overview about the subject, titled "When Will H.265 HEVC Arrive and What Will It Mean for MPEG DASH?"  According to Siglin, "H.265 is set to double the efficiency of H.264, especially when it comes to mobile delivery."  Think about that -- 2X the efficiency of the current high quality video standard!  But, what does that really mean -- in a practical sense -- for businesses involved in the delivery of online video?  And, what does that really mean -- in a practical sense -- to you and me as consumers of online video content?

Given Sorenson Media's central role in video transformation for optimized online delivery (which most definitely ultimately will feature H.265), I wanted to get the perspective of one of our foremost experts (and one of the foremost experts in online video period), Randon Morford, Director of Desktop & Core Technology Development.  Randon has been with Sorenson Media nearly 10 years since 2003; among other things, Randon was actively involved in laying the foundations for video in Flash.  He also was a driving force behind H.264 encoding and is a respected voice in the online video industry.

Here is the text of my interview with Randon:

Q: What is the significance of H.265?
A: This is a repeat of the past.  We've seen it previously with H.264, and now we will see it with H.265.  It's the opportunity to cut bandwidth in half, but deliver the same high quality video.

Q: Who has the most to gain from H.265?
A: The cost savings for companies like Netflix and YouTube will be significant.  They have the most to gain economically from H.265, because they incur the massive costs of video distribution at scale.  Consumers also will be winners here.  Consumers will see significant gains in the form of much faster downloads and compelling streaming experiences -- especially consumers with slower connections.  With H.265, a significant number of consumers will, for the first time, be able to experience high quality online video without the stutter and stop experience -- making true 1080p video available for more consumers, unlike adaptive formats which adjust to lower quality for lower bandwidth conditions.

Q: Are there any costs involved with these gains?
A: It won't be free for consumers.  If you want to play back H.265 video and take full advantage of it, it won't just be a question of new software.  H.265 will require new hardware -- new iPhones, new Android devices, new Apple TV, because H.265 is processor intensive.  The hardware's chipset itself needs to hold the H.265 decoder to harness the power of H.265.  Otherwise, there's no guessing what kind of experience the consumer will get.  This, of course, presents a new significant consumer opportunity for device manufacturers.  Speaking of device manufacturers, let's not forget about possible H.265 codec licensing royalties they will need to pay in connection with those new H.265-ready devices.  Right now, we have no idea what those may be. 

Q: What are H.265's implications to MPEG DASH?  Any threats to DASH?
A: H.265 and MPEG DASH are complementary, not competitive.  No issue here.  MPEG DASH is a format, so it's up to MPEG LA [the licensing consortium for DASH] whether they will support H.265.  And, they most definitely will.  After all, they are behind the push for H.265.

Q: What does H.265 mean for Sorenson Media's own product development?
A: It's an exciting time.  Anytime there is a major new codec, we are the feet on the ground educating video professionals how to work with it, take advantage of it, answer questions about it, help solve their problems.  We want to help make video professionals look like heroes in this continuing complexity of online video.  We want and need to make it easy.  That's our mission.

Q: Any final thoughts?
A: I'm curious to see what happens.  When this has happened in the past [i.e, the introduction of a major new codec technology], other competitors came to the foreground.  This happened with H.264, and Google's challenge to it with WebM.  It will be interesting to see if anyone steps up and tries to compete with H.265.

If you have any follow-up questions for Randon, please drop me a note at -- I will make sure he sees every single one of them and I assure you we will respond personally (no form emails here).