HEVC without 4K

August 28, 2015
The consumer electronics industry wants to increase the number of pixels on every device by 4 times. Without HEVC this will quadruple the storage requirements for video content and clog the already limited network bandwidths. To bring 4K or UHD to the consumer, HEVC standard is essential as it can cut these requirements at least by half. There is no doubt about it. But what the consumer electronics industry wants might not essentially be what the consumer wants. Case in point is 3D TVs, which failed to take off due to the lack of interest from the consumers and original content creators. The same thing might happen to 4K. If the 4K/UHD devices fail to take off, where will HEVC be?
Here, we make a case for HEVC.
HEVC without 4k
According to the data released by CISCO, video will be the highest consumer of network bandwidth in the years to come and video has the highest growth rate across all segments. With HEVC based solutions these over clogged networks can take a breather.
Let’s look at how deploying HEVC solutions is advantageous to the major segments of the video industry.

1. Broadcast:

Broadcast industry is a juggernaut which moves very slowly. They will have the biggest advantages in cost saving and consumer satisfaction by adopting HEVC. But, they have to make the highest initial investment as well. There are claims that UHD alone does not add much to the visual experience at a reasonable TV viewing distance for a 40-50 inch TV. The industry is pushing for additional video enhancement tools such as Higher Dynamic Range, more color information and better color representation (BT 2020). UHD support in broadcast may not be feasible without upgrading the infrastructure and with the advantage that HEVC can provide to UHD video including it in the infrastructure upgrade is the optimal choice. But if UHD fails to attract the consumer then what will happen to HEVC? Without UHD broadcast becoming a reality, introduction of HEVC into broadcast infrastructure can be delayed heavily. On the other hand contribution encoding can be heavily benefited from HEVC with reasonable change in infrastructure. But whether broadcast companies adapt to HEVC just for contribution encoding without the support of UHD depends purely on cost of adaption and cost saving by the adaption.

2. Video surveillance:

Surveillance applications are increasing each day and now there is an added overhead for backups on the cloud. The advantage with video surveillance applications is that it does not need backward compatibility. Hence HEVC is an ideal solution for the industry to cut the storage costs for the current systems or to keep it at the same level for new generation of systems which can store more video surveillance data at higher resolutions. ASIC developers are already developing HEVC encoders and decoders and it's just a matter of time video surveillance systems based on HEVC hit the market. But upgrading current video surveillance systems to support HEVC may not be feasible without the hard struggle of making legacy hardware support HEVC.

3. Video Conference:

Video conference applications can be a tricky situation as it needs to be highly interoperable and it needs backward compatibility with the existing systems. Professional video conference systems might have to support both HEVC as well as earlier codecs for working with already available systems. On the other hand, general video conferencing solutions such as gtalk or Skype would have a problem of licensing HEVC. As none of the current day browsers or Operating systems (Except Windows 10 which most probably has just the decoder) has announced support for HEVC. But advantage that HEVC can bring into video conferencing application can be magnificent. Irrespective of advancement in bandwidth availability and with the introduction of high speed 3G and 4G services, quality of video conferencing experience has remained poor. This can be massively improved with the help of HEVC, which has the potential to enable HD video calling on a 3G network. With or without the help of UHD, at least the professional video conferencing systems will adapt HEVC unless another codec (likes of VP9, Daala) promises better advantages.

4. Storage, streaming and archiving:

Advantage of upgrading archived database to use HEVC needs no explanation. Imagine the number of petabytes of memory that can be saved if all archived videos are converted to HEVC. OTT players like Netflix are already on the process of upgrading to HEVC as it will help them to reduce the burden on ISP providers. And it will also help in reducing storage and transmission cost in video streaming application. Converting such huge data base from one format to another will not be easy. OTT and video streaming applications would need scalable HEVC where each video need to be encoded at different resolutions and different data rates. This would need multi instance encoders continuously running to encode these videos at very high quality. However cost saving in these application by adapting to HEVC is very huge and upgrading to HEVC in storage space will become inevitable.

5. End consumer:

The end consumer gets exposed to HEVC at different levels:
Decoders in the latest gadgets viz. TV, mobile phone, tablet, gaming console and web browsers. Encoders which are built in wherever there is a camera, be it in video calling on mobile phone, tablet or laptop and video recording in mobile phone or standalone camera.
It is difficult to convince the less tech savvy end consumer about the advantages of HEVC, but they are a huge market. In the US it costs around 1$ for 10 Mega Bytes of data. HEVC can indeed help the consumers with higher video quality for the same cost or half the cost for the current video quality. Since HEVC is important to the consumers, almost all chip manufacturers are supporting HEVC or it is in their road map. Even there are consumer electronic products currently in the market with HEVC encoders built in. Definitely HEVC support will be a differentiating factor for the end consumer looking for a new gadget.
Deploying HEVC based solutions will definitely yield gains in the long term after the profits due to the reduction in bandwidth overtake the loss of the initial investments. This is true with each of the segments which we have discussed. With 4K or UHD this initial investment can be merged to higher quality offerings and the costs could be offset. But without any change in the resolution or any other feature, the returns on HEVC investments are definitely high. When the entire video industry adopts the newer and better codec standard HEVC, the gains will multiply.
Pathpartner author Prashanth
Prashanth NS
Technical Lead
Pathpartner author Shashikantha
Shashikantha Srinivas
Technical Lead