The HEVC/H.265 standard is now officially finalized, paving the way for broader commercialization in products in the near future. Back in September of 2012, I published a post introducing HEVC/H.265, a new video codec that offers approximately twice the efficiency of H.264. A draft specification for HEVC was released in July 2012 by the JCT-VC, a joint collaborative group co-sponsored by MPEG and the ITU. And last Friday, the ITU announced that HEVC had received first stage “consent” approval. Simultaneously, MPEG announced that HVEC had achieved Final Draft Internal Standard (FDIS) status. What does this mean?

HEVC is now fully baked and we will soon be seeing wider industry adoption!

It is important to note that the current HEVC specification only describes profiles for single-view 8-bit and 10-bit video with 4:2:0 subsampling. Extensions are in progress for 4:2:2 and 4:4:4 color sampling as well as multi-view (3D). Until these extensions are ratified next year, H.265 will not achieve full functional parity with H.264.

Because HEVC is more complex computationally, adoption will depend on continued increases in processing power and battery power. Although some current mobile devices may be able to decode HEVC in the future simply by updating their software, HEVC will put a huge strain on processors and battery life. For many applications, hardware implementations will be optimal, and many hardware vendors have announced chips that will support H.265. For example, at CES 2013 Broadcom showed the BCM7445, an HEVC decoder chip that will be incorporated into next generation home gateway devices in mid-2014.

Broadcom BCM7445 at CES 2013

But as with any codec transition, consumer adoption will depend on support across the value chain:

  • Consumer viewing devices will require updated software or hardware to decode HEVC
  • Content owners and distributors will need to create and offer HEVC-encoded content for distribution
  • Content distribution networks, such as cable operators, will need to update their delivery infrastructure to support HEVC

Unfortunately, these barriers to adoption are significant. That’s why most of us are still watching MPEG-2 on TV, even though H.264 was ratified several years ago. Still, finalizing the specification is an important first step towards adoption. And HEVC offers many benefits to broadcasters and content owners. As with 4K and Ultra High-Definition Television (UHDTV), HEVC is an important building-block in the next wave of high resolution imaging.

Hall 14 and Connected TV out front at IBC

For the past two days, I have been immersed in the chaotic energy of the IBC Exhibition. Along with roughly 50,000 of my closest friends I have roamed the 14 halls of Amsterdam’s RAI convention center, taking in hundreds of booths from more than 1300 exhibitors, to see what’s new and exciting in the world of broadcast technology. After two busy days, I am now attempting to digest all the pamphlets and notes I have collected. Incidentally, I’ve also been digesting a couple of Heinekens, which leaves me wondering why beer tastes so much better in Europe. Maybe it’s the atmosphere. Or maybe European brewers conspire to ship their worst batches overseas. But I digress…

Now that I’ve stepped back from all the hustle and bustle of the convention to take a “mental squint” at the first two days, it is clear to me that the Broadcast industry is beginning to adapt to their rapidly evolving landscape. For a few years now, broadcasters have faced a complex transition to an unclear future. But at IBC 2012 I see evidence that they understand the disruptive forces in play, as well as the emerging opportunities. My best attempt to summarize the mindset of broadcasters at IBC 2012 is as follows:

Broadcasters are seeking new ways to manage and monetize their content, reaching new audiences on new platforms, while evolving their existing business models in a time of intense change.

Given this outlook, it should be no surprise that Connected TV is the most prominent theme at the IBC show this year. Connected TV presents a potential migratory path for the Broadcast industry, integrating internet paradigms with traditional broadcast business models. Connected TV envisions a future where consumers can enjoy high-quality interactive viewing experiences – watching any content, whenever they want to, on any internet-connected device. For broadcasters, Connected TV promises a technology platform that will enable them to expand their viewership, retain existing advertising and subscription revenues, while spawning incremental revenue streams from new services.

Connected TV could be the win/win scenario broadcasters have been looking for. The concept is compelling enough that the IBC created an entirely new Connected World Hall right in front of the RAI center (roughly 80,000 square feet!) as a showcase. But based on the conversations I’ve had with my counterparts walking the show floor, this transition is going to take time, as broadcasters continue to wrestle with the challenges of the here and now:

  • Conversion from SD to HD. This transition is still in full swing in many geographies.
  • Integration of IT infrastructure with traditional broadcast technology.
  • Evolution from physical media assets to file-based workflow.
  • Expansion of internet and mobile content delivery.
  • Operational challenges stemming from increased complexity and budgetary pressures, including macroeconomic factors (especially in Southern Europe).

These challenges are not new – some of these evolutionary shifts are well into their second decade. But at IBC 2012, the Broadcast industry is starting to coalesce a compelling vision for the future. Yes, broadcasters are beginning to evolve! The key question remains, can they evolve quickly enough?


Thanks for reading this inaugural post for WireMosaic. As long as Amsterdam doesn’t suddenly run out of beer during the next 72 hours, I will continue to share my perspective on IBC, the state of the broadcast industry, and the latest news in media technology. Cheers!