Next-Gen Video Format H.265 Is Approved, Paving The Way For High-Quality Video On Low-Bandwidth Networks

The ITU has approved a new video format that could bring 4k video to future broadband networks, while also making streaming HD video available even on bandwidth-constrained mobile networks. The H.265 standard, also informally known as High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC), is designed to provide high-quality streaming video, even on low-bandwidth networks.

The new video format is the successor to the H.264 codec, which nearly every video publisher has standardized after the release of the iPad and several other connected devices. It seems crazy now, but once upon a time, Apple’s adoption of H.264 and insistence on HTML5-based video players was controversial — especially since most video before the iPad was encoded in VP6 to play through Adobe’s proprietary Flash player.

The hope is that, through improved compression techniques, H.265 will enable publishers to stream 1080p video with about half as many bits as required today. That should make true streaming HD video available not just in broadband households, but on mobile and tablet devices, using networks that are a lot more bandwidth-constrained. Doing so could make online video more widely available in markets with poor connectivity or mostly mobile connections.

In places where there is decent broadband connectivity, H.265 could enable even higher-quality video. With 4K TVs finally becoming available, there’s an opportunity for even greater video resolution. The only problem is that networks aren’t built to support the load that streaming that video would require. With H.265, 4K streaming could be possible with as little as 20-30 Mbps of bandwidth. Still a lot by today’s standards, but not completely unheard of.

Of course, just because the format has been approved doesn’t mean that we’ll start seeing video files shrink or lower bit-rate streams anytime soon. While there will likely be software-based encoders available by the end of the year, the codec won’t see mass adoption until it gets embedded into chips and hardware. It could be 12 to 18 months, maybe longer, before the first devices with H.265 hardware acceleration make it to market.

Once those initial devices do make it to market, however, we can probably expect a quick ramp up in the amount of content that begins to take advantage of H.265. Since the launch of the iPad, the percentage of video published in H.264 has climbed from less than 10 percent to more than 84 percent in less than three years, according to MeFeedia.

The adoption of H.265 could mean less network strain, more HD video, or some combination of the two. I personally expect that the availability of a more efficient codec will more likely mean higher quality rather than smaller video files, but every little bit helps.