Back in January 2013, the HEVC standard was published by ISO, promising to greatly improve video compression efficiency. You may be wondering, what kind of progress has the standard seen since then?
Actually, there’s been a bit of action surrounding HEVC lately. In October of 2014, MPEG LA released the licensing terms of HEVC, and interoperability testing has taken place. On the consumer front, a small but growing number of Ultra HD TVs have been developed that are capable of receiving HEVC over IP. That’s great news for the next-generation compression standard. But what about real-world service deployments? The truth is there have only been a few commercial HEVC deployments, mostly to UHD TV sets with an HEVC decoder. However, I think a slew of OTT HEVC streaming services will make their way on to additional screens in 2015. An ever-growing number of mobile devices, such as the iPhone® 6 and Android™ phones powered by the Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ 805 processor, now support HEVC. As for large-scale HEVC service deployments, I believe those are a ways off into the future since they’ll require an HEVC STB in the home. One of the biggest concerns the broadcast community has had about HEVC is with regards to the limits of broadcasting at 50fps for sports content. Harmonic has quelled those concerns, having recently demonstrated the first end-to-end live UHD STBs and a 100Hz UHD TV upconversion of UHD 21060p50 signal over HDMI® 2.0 with Sigma Designs. Where does that leave us as far as broadcast applications are concerned? I think, initially, HEVC will be used in the broadcast world for IPTV delivery where the reach to the final subscribers is still an issue for non-fiber customers. The second phase of broadcast deployments will likely involve terrestrial networks where bandwidth is limited, especially if UHD services have yet to be introduced given the fact that HEVC dramatically reduces the data rate needed for high-quality video coding. As far as encoding goes, HEVC will deliver on its initial promises, faster than initially expected, as the industry shifts toward a more software-centric strategy for the encoding process. Looking onward to the future, as consumer demand for high-quality video content continues to increase, HEVC is going to be a driving factor in delivering OTT, UHD, IPTV, and broadcast services. Therefore, it is absolutely essential that service providers have an infrastructure in place that can be easily upgraded to this codec. So how far can content be compressed using HEVC? To replicate existing services 1080i services would require 3Mbps, rising to 6Mbps to realize the service as 1080P. For a move to deliver native 4K movies at 24 fps, would need 10 Mbps. An extension of the 4K movie service to cater for sports application would need the bit rate to rise to 15-20 Mbps, assuming that 50/60 fps is considered adequate. For 100/120 fps for premium sports application would require extra bit rate, at least 25 Mbps and the development of a consumer interface capable of handling frame rates above 50/60 fps. – Ian Trow, Sr. Director, Emerging Technology & Strategy, Harmonic