What is HEVC: Everything You Need to Know About High-Efficiency Video Coding

By John Yacano on July 26, 2023

HEVC has emerged as one of the most talked-about codecs in recent years. As a content publisher, it’s essential to have a clear understanding of how different codecs work on different devices and operating systems. It’ll help you choose the right codec for your streaming platform. 

In this blog, we’ll take a closer look at the benefits and limitations of the HEVC codec to understand whether it’s worth the hype. 

Let’s get started.

HEVC Codec: How it Started

HEVC, or High-Efficiency Video Coding, is a video compression standard. Developed and implemented by the ISO/IEC Motion Picture Experts Group and the ITU-T Video Coding Experts Group, HEVC is the successor to the widely used H.264 codec. The standard is also known as H.265.

Development of the HEVC video codec began in 2004 when the ITU-T started working on a successor to H.264. MPEG began working on the standard in 2007. 

That was followed by a joint Call for Proposals in 2010 when both groups collaborated. HEVC became an approved standard in 2013.

The main purpose behind developing the H.265 codec was to offer significant technical advancements over H.264. It can generate twice as higher video quality at the same bit rate as H.264. Besides compression efficiency, it also supports higher resolutions up to 8912 x 4320 (8K).

How Does the HEVC Codec Work?

Much like H.264, HEVC uses I-, B-, and P-frames within a set of images. But the new standard deploys various advanced features to deliver 50% better compression efficiency. 

These include:

  • Coding Tree Blocks
  • Increased intra-prediction directions
  • Adaptive motion vector prediction
  • Improved deblocking filter
  • Enhanced parallelization tools

These features make HEVC superior to H.264 in terms of encoding quality. That, in turn, makes it the codec of choice for 4K videos. It’s particularly useful for encoding 4K videos with a high dynamic range (HDR).

Image via TechSpot

When to Use HEVC: Key Considerations

HEVC offers a high compression efficiency and better video quality compared to H.264. It’s suitable for a wide array of applications, from sports and news broadcasting to OTT streaming. 

What’s more, it’s ideal for smart TVs that deliver 4K resolution with HDR.

The lower bitrate and outbound bandwidth requirements of HEVC also make it suitable for livestreaming. The good thing is that broadcasters and content producers also get access to a diverse range of affordable hardware-based HEVC encoders. 

But it’s worth keeping in mind that the improved efficiency of HEVC comes with tradeoffs. To begin with, it increases encoding complexity and reduces speed. Additionally, it requires more CPU resources than H.264, thus escalating costs.

HEVC is compatible with a wide array of devices, including smartphones, tablets, and smart TVs. It even works with established operating systems, such as Android and iOS. Most leading OTT platforms support the standard too.

However, HEVC offers limited compatibility with browsers on desktop and mobile. That’s a significant drawback compared to H.264.

HEVC Licensing Complications

A complex patent setup is one of the biggest deterrents to the widespread adoption of the HEVC codec. Unlike H.264, its successor involves three patent pools.

The three patent pools include:

  • MPEG LA - No royalty fee for content
  • Access Advance - Royalty fee for commercial content distributed on physical digital media
  • Velos Media - Ambiguous royalty fee guidelines for content publishers

Content producers and broadcasters must have a clear idea of different royalty fees before using HEVC for video compression.

Final Takeaways

HEVC was developed by the ITU-T and MPEG as a powerful successor to H.264. While the new standard offers excellent compression efficiency and video quality, it involves extensive encoding complexity. 

The use of multiple patent pools further complicates the process for content publishers. The HEVC codec is best suited for streaming 4K video with HDR on smart TVs.

Looking for an efficient, fast, and affordable encoding solution for your streaming platform? Get in touch with us to schedule a demo of Zype.


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