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What is the difference between HEVC (H.265) and H.264 (MPEG-4 AVC)

H.265 is the successor standard to H.264, aka MPEG-4 AVC and has generated huge optimism given Industry’s struggle with shortage of bandwidth, spectrum, storage and imminent need to take growing HD content for multi platform delivery. HEVC was approved by ITU-T in Jan 2013 and has been among the most discussed broadcast trends, as well as the key technology offering at NAB and IBC with product vendors and service providers flooding HEVC solutions to bring alive the cherished 4K experience.

HEVC vs H.264HEVC is Big Deal …Today H.264 is the most widely accepted and adopted format in online and broadcast domain for content compression and distribution. HEVC (High Efficiency Video Coding),  the new video coding standard brings promise of huge bandwidth savings of approx. 40-45% over H.264 encoded content (ref. HEVC MP and H.264 HP with similar fps) with similar quality. In addition HEVC has potential to significantly impact other areas including

  • Accelerate demand and sale of 4K screens which has been largely limited due to large price difference and absence of UHD content. HEVC can offset the second challenge
  • Huge opportunities from reduced bitrate requirements enabling broadcasters and OTT vendors to bundle more channels / content on existing delivery mediums
  • Extend far greater video quality experience compared to H.264 encoded sequence at same bit rate
  • Ability to offer higher quality video for bandwidth constrained mobile networks
  • Realize differentiated and premium 4K content, multiview encoding etc..

…But HEVC Adoption is still Far.  While HEVC can bring respite to content producers, aggregators, distributors and consumers with more quality content at same bitrate, the adoption curve could still be years away. Few reasons being

  1. Industry adoption weighs heavily on investments and with significant cost gone in H.264 gear for SD to HD migration, next expensive transition will take time. End to end deployment will require headend upgrade, workflow overhaul, re-deployment of media players (STBs, game consoles ..) with embedded HEVC hardware decoders and migration of huge content libraries from H.264 to HEVC.
  2. In addition to CE player, support from major technology players (Google, Adobe, Apple, Microsoft, Sony etc.) in their players, browsers,  mobile and PC operating systems will determine majority adoption.
  3. Time to realize power efficient and real time encoders/decoders given HEVC computational overheads. Availability of affordable HEVC technology in silicon with level of reliability will be the defining milestone.