H.264 vs. H.265: A Detailed Comparison

By Kelly Messori on August 23, 2023

Creating and distributing video content involves various complex steps. As a content publisher, you have to make several crucial decisions, such as what equipment and monetization techniques to use. Additionally, you need to select the best video compression standard for streaming your content.

Modern viewers are used to watching high-resolution videos on smartphones, tablets, and computers. If you want to attract such an audience, you must ensure that the selected codec delivers the best quality video without taking ages to buffer.

But if you look at the variety of codecs available in the market, you’ll be spoilt for choice. Most content creators and broadcasters face the dilemma of choosing between H.264 and H.265.

If you’ve been racking your brains over the H.264 vs. H.265 debate, we’ve got you covered.

What is H.264?

H.264 is one of the most widely used video compression standards. Also known as Advanced Video Coding (AVC), it’s used to record, compress, and distribute videos. Whether you’re hosting a live stream or delivering video to a media player, you’ve likely used H.264.

It supports standard video resolutions and is compatible with a broad spectrum of devices, CDNs, and operating systems. Most readily available video encoding solutions support H.264.

What is H.265?

High-Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC) or H.265 is the successor to H.264. The International Telecommunication Union and Moving Picture Experts Group developed it to offer technical enhancements over H.264. The codec is known for its high efficiency and output quality. H.265 can generate videos of comparable quality as H.264 but in half the file size.

The adoption of H.265 isn’t as prevalent as its predecessor. Nevertheless, it’s an ideal choice for smart TVs that stream 4K video with high dynamic range (HDR) capabilities.

H.264 vs. H.265 Codec: What Are the Differences?

The most significant difference between H.264 and H.265 is how each codec compresses videos.

H.264 uses macroblocks to process each frame of a video. The size of each macroblock ranges between 4x4 pixels and 16x16 pixels. Each macroblock can be divided further into transform blocks and prediction blocks.

On the other hand, H.265 uses coding tree units (CTUs) to process video frames. Each CTU can process sizes of up to 64x64 pixels.

It makes H.265 more efficient than H.264. It also reduces the size of the final video file compressed using H.265. That, in turn, minimizes bandwidth requirements for distributing and streaming video content.

For instance, 4K videos encoded with H.264 require a bandwidth of 32 Mbps. In comparison, when you use H.265, you can stream videos in 4K resolution at 15 Mbps. That’s a two-fold reduction in bandwidth requirement.

What’s more?

HEVC uses advanced motion compensation, spatial prediction, and parallelization tools to enhance coding efficiency. However, H.265’s high efficiency results in increased encoding complexity and advanced computational power requirements. That, in turn, can escalate encoding and compression costs.

Additionally, H.265 isn’t as widely adopted as H.264. It offers limited compatibility with internet browsers on desktop and mobile devices too. Lastly, H.265 has a complex patent pool.

HEVC vs. H.264: What Should You Use?

The H.264 vs. H.265 debate isn’t about which one’s a better codec. Instead, you have to identify the right fit for your needs.

If you want your content to reach a wide audience on different devices and platforms, H.264 is the way to go. On the other hand, H.265 is better suited for streaming 4K video on smart TVs. It’s also a good choice for live streaming.

Choose the Right One

H.264 is the gold standard for recording, compressing, and distributing digital videos. H.265, or HEVC, uses various technical enhancements to boost coding efficiency and reduce bandwidth requirements. Make sure you evaluate the benefits and drawbacks of each codec and choose the one that fits your goals.

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