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ITU signs off on H.265 video standard

High Efficiency Video Coding said to need half the bit rate of H.264

NHK demos UHDTV

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has signed off on High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC), a video compression standard expected to succeed the wildly popular H.264.

ITU-T H.265 / ISO/IEC 23008-2 HEVC, to give the new standard its full name, is seen by the ITU as “designed to take account of advancing screen resolutions” and “is expected to be phased in as high-end products and services outgrow the limits of current network and display technology.”

HEVC can handle resolutions up to 7680x4320, meaning it can easily handle the 4K UHDTV standards' 3840*2160 and the rather more strenuous requirements of 8K UHDTV.

The new standard will be welcomed by many, but perhaps none more so that network operators who can now see a time when video will occupy less of their bandwidth. At CES, for example, Cisco and Broadcom talked up 720p video at 30 frames per second at less than half a megabit a second, all thanks to HEVC. That kind of performance will surely be welcome as video already accounts for a very significant chunk of all data transported over the internet – 51 per cent according to Cisco's networking index. That same index says it will occupy just 55 per cent by 2016, a slow growth rate surely attributable to better compression.

Mobile operators, recently predicted to raise prices as they run out of spectrum in which to beam data, will also welcome the chance to send more customer-satisfying bits.

The ratification of H.265 also makes it more likely, as we reported last August, that it will be possible for 4K and 8K UHDTV to be delivered over fast broadband. David Wood, chairman of the ITU-R Working Party 6C, which was responsible for the UHDTV specs, told us at that time that HEVC will mean a single 4K UHDTV stream will require about 25 Mbit/s, while 8K UHDTV will require90 Mbit/s. The former might conceivably be squeezed over a bonded DSL connection and will be a snack over fiber to the premises connections. The latter remains challenging for most nations' domestic broadband connections, but as 8K UHDTV is not expected to be widely deployed for some time there's a big catch-up window carriers and governments can work with.

The ITU is already working on HEVC extensions to satisfy the finicky needs of video professionals, while a H.265 successor is already being contemplated to further reduce the bit rate required to transport video. ®

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