HEVC for non UHD Content: Not Sexy but Excitingly Steady

The casual video-market observer can be forgiven for thinking that the latest version of an MPEG video compression standard, HEVC, exists only to enable the fledgling Ultra HD market.

As companies like Qualcomm, Apple and Samsung well know, the latest MPEG/ITU video compression standard will serve a much larger and less glamorous purpose than delivering 4,000 lines of eye-popping video resolution to high-end big-screen TVs. Think of HEVC more as the Plain Old Compression (POC) workhorse for badly clogged networks groaning under the pressure of consumers’ seemingly insatiable appetite for video delivered via the internet. The expansion of video programming consumption to mobile devices has content and service providers scrambling to find virtual and/or actual increased bandwidth to accommodate a pent-up demand for high-quality, error-free network-delivered video. More efficient compression isn’t the only part of the equation but it’s a critical one. This pent-up demand doesn’t require an ultra-high video resolution; it just requires steady and constant delivery of plain old HD or SD video.

Samsung and Apple have already shipped tens of millions of smartphones that are HEVC compatible (Galaxy S4 and iPhone 6 and 6 Plus). Whereas the SoCs (that support HEVC) required to deliver the UHD experience can add as much as $20 to a bill of materials, a POC application adds somewhere in the neighborhood of $5. For wireless service providers who believe that improved transmission standards, more spectrum, and more efficient compression creates a better video-viewing experience (than wi-fi delivery), specifying baseline HEVC is an easy call. More so because some service providers believe there’s additional revenue to be had by charging extra for that better experience.

And with HEVC support baked into the Android L (or Lollipop) standard, DTC looks for HEVC support from all major mobile phone suppliers in 2015. In its HEVC product forecast, DTC estimates that more than 300 million HEVC-capable mobile phones will ship in 2015 growing to more than 1.5 billion in 2018. In comparison, DTC estimates that there will be about 9 million HEVC TVs shipped in 2015.



You won’t see much about HEVC being used for POC for on-line delivered content. There’s plenty of promotion for 4K UHD content available from the likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime, and you could also be excused for concluding there must be lots of consumers viewing HEVC-encoded UHD programs online. The number of programs is currently limited and only Netflix subscribers who have select brands and models of new 4K UHD TVs have access to the programs. But, it’s even more restricted than that because unless you have a connection speed of at least 15 Mbps, it’s a tossup as to whether or not your connection will be good enough for an “acceptable” viewing experience. Over time these conditions will change but it won’t happen overnight.

DTC projects that many more video playback devices will soon be made with chips that accommodate HD or SD programs encoded with the more efficient compression. This probably won’t get much attention, but the plain, steady and constant rarely do.