Is the HEVC Digital Camera/Editing Software Logjam About to Burst?

All 4K UHDs can decode HEVC files; after all, all the 4K streaming video content from Netflix and Amazon and Vudu and anyone else who is or will be streaming 4K video is encoded in HEVC.

Unfortunately, the HEVC ecosystem hasn’t extended to the home video recording side. Only two digicams encode 4K real-time with HEVC, both Samsung mirrorless models: the NX1 and the NX500.

The lack of HEVC editing options is often cited as the reason behind the lack of expansion of HEVC to consumer digital cameras. None of the major video pro editing suites, such as Adobe Premier, Sony’s Vegas Pro and Catalyst, or Apple Final Cut Pro, include HEVC-compatibility. And only a handful of consumer editing options such as packages from Cyberlink, Nero, and Adobe include it.

In order to edit HEVC-encoded video, 4K footage has to be transcoded into a more standard or software-specific format before it can be imported and edited by these video editing programs. And this transcoding usually takes longer than the video’s actual length, increasing the already challenging level of 4K HEVC editing difficulty.

Since there are only two digicams equipped with real-time HEVC encoding, why would a video editing software maker add HEVC compatibility? And if there are no video software packages with HEVC compatibility, why would camera makers work to include real-time HEVC encoding?

Chicken, meet egg. Egg, meet chicken.

But this hardware/software logjam may be about to break.

Hatching the HEVC Egg

Digital cameras aren’t the only consumer 4K video recording devices, of course. An increasing number of Android smartphones run by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 810 and new 820 chips, Samsung’s Exynos 7 Octa and brand spanking new 8 Octa processors and Huawei’s new Kirin 950 SoC all encode 4K video in HEVC. (Apple’s A8 and A9 chips only include HEVC for FaceTime video chatting.)

These 4K-recording smartphones add to the need for HEVC-native editing capabilities, and may have lead to a couple of video editing software companies to realize that HEVC is the future.

According to Adobe spokesperson, the next update of Premiere Pro will have native support some time before year’s end.

Meanwhile, a Sony spokesperson told us that while they had nothing yet to announce, “HEVC support is on the radar for both our Catalyst and Vegas Pro products.”

Final Cut Pro? When Apple wants us to know anything, it’ll tell us. But there seems to be a lot of online chatter from consumers clamoring for HEVC compatibility not only from FCP but all the video editing software makers.

But HEVC software editing capabilities isn’t the only camera/HEVC roadblock. There’s also the slow update calendar for digital camera/camcorder processing chips. And perhaps the video editing software makers know something we don’t know.

Unlike annually updated smartphone processors, digital camera processors are upgraded more like every three or four years. Since the HEVC encoder needs to be integrated into a camera’s primary processing chip, and since HEVC encoding is still relatively new, only Samsung—which makes its own chips—has managed to integrate a real-time encoder into the NX1’s DRIMe V (NX1) and DRIMe Vs (NC500) processor.

Camera makers don’t exactly spill their product plans before their launch. But given the teases from the video editing software makers and given that three of the major camera brands—Sony, Samsung and Panasonic—also make HEVC-enabled 4K TVs, we’d lay odds that we’ll see more HEVC-encoding digital cameras and camcorders at CES in a couple of months.