The International Telecommunication Union’s recent approval of a new H.265 (ITU-T H.265 / ISO/IEC 23008-2 HEVC) video standard could help broadband ISPs to manage the growing burden of internet video traffic. Indeed some 720p HD video streams may soon be possible with a download speed of well under 1Mbps (Megabits/sec).
According to Cisco’s 2012 Visual Networking Index forecast, online video content and TV services are predicted to account for 54% of all consumer internet traffic by 2016 (currently 51%). The rise in consumption is being fuelled by a growing demand for services like YouTube, Netflix, LOVEFiLM, internet connected TV’s and a new generation of IPTV products (e.g. YouView from BT and TalkTalk).
On top of that the forthcoming Ultra HD (Ultra High Definition) video standards, such as 4K (3840 x 2160 pixels) and 8K (7680 x 4320 pixels), are slowly beginning to enter the market and should deliver streams that go well above the current best 1080p HDTV standard (1,920 x 1,080 pixels).
The recent developments are however a mixed blessing for broadband providers. On the one hand ISPs will welcome the prospect of a new selling point for their latest superfast and fibre broadband products, yet on the other they face an insatiable and rising demand for network capacity.
“Now this is all very well and good but what will it mean for us men in the street? Well the amount of digital bandwidth needed to stream 8k video is around 350Mbps. If we assume that households will want to have multiple streams so that people can watch Big Brother, Coronation Street, Eastenders and the footy simultaneously in different rooms whilst sharing the experience with their friends via Telepresence it isn’t difficult to imagine a world where several Gigabits per second is required to the home.”
As we said last year, video streaming speeds vary from frame to frame based on many factors, such as the complexity of what they have to display and the method of encoding (codec). At present one of the best is H.264, which can optimise and compress even HD video streams to consume a comparatively small amount of speed and thus use less network capacity (saves money).
In fact it’s now possible to do some 1080p streams with a connection speed of just 3Mbps and surprisingly little quality loss, which is a huge improvement from the 10-20Mbps needed not so long ago. According to the ITU, some 80% of all web video is encoded using H.264 and from the above example it’s easy to see why (more for less).
Now, just when we thought the limits were close to being reached, the ITU has agreed to its replacement – H.265. The new standard supports High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC), which needs only around half the bit rate of its predecessor, H.264, to do the same content and also supports the new UHDTV 4K and 8K standards.
One recent CES2012 demo by Broadcom showed H.265 being used to push a 720p video stream at a speed of less than 512Kbps (0.5Mbps), which is nothing short of astonishing and marks good news for ISPs which stand to see less strain on their capacity as the new standard is slowly adopted. Meanwhile consumers on slower connection speeds would also benefit.
In reality there are some trade-offs to the adoption of H.265 (i.e. not all current hardware and software supports H.265 and new codecs often need faster computers/devices), which could mean that it won’t be widely supported for awhile and by then the new 4K and 8K standards could have become mainstream. Back to square one, possibly.