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Possible Boost for Broadband as ITU Seeks to Double Video Compression

Monday, February 13th, 2017 (9:15 am) - Score 1,169
internet video and streaming

Having a slow broadband connection is no fun if you enjoy Internet video streaming, but fear not because the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has begun work on a future video coding standard that could “double the video compression capability” (i.e. better quality video for less speed).

At present online video content accounts for around 60-70% of all consumer Internet traffic and demand is constantly rising, not least due to the advent of 4K streaming (video resolution of 3840 x 2160). However video compression and optimisation technology has done a fantastic job of keeping pace with change and as a result it’s possible to fit increasingly high quality video down a fairly slow broadband line.

Last year we ran a couple of articles that looked at the impact of advanced video compression methods on video streaming quality and broadband speeds (here and here), which highlight just how dramatic the difference can be between old and new standards. For example, today many 4K streams require you to have a broadband speed of around 20-30Mbps (Megabits per second) but not long ago this was more like 50Mbps and prior that it would have been 100-200Mbps etc.

One of the best known standards in this important field is called H.265 High Efficiency Video Coding (HVEC), which over the past few years has worked its way into a lot of modern Smart TVs, computers, set-top-boxes and so forth. However the pace of technological change means that ITU-T Study Group 16 (SG16) and the Moving Pictures Expert Group (MPEG) have once again teamed up to build a sequel to H.265 (H.266?).

At present the work is only just getting started via an initial ‘Call for Evidence‘. Nevertheless the aim is the “development of a standard with double the video compression capability of HEVC” and a target completion date for “late2020. All of this spells good news for those on slower broadband speeds, particularly with the UK being about to adopt a new 10Mbps Universal Service Obligation (USO).. also by 2020.

ITU-T Statement

The SG16-MPEG Joint Video Exploration Team (JVET) is studying the feasibility of the project and evaluating candidate technology designs.

JVET is reporting roughly 30 per cent improvement in compression capability relative to HEVC with its preliminary ‘Joint Exploration Model’, with the qualification that this improvement comes with high computational complexity. This work is considering a wide variety of video source content, including new types of content such as high dynamic range video and virtual-reality/360° omnidirectional video.

The preliminary ‘Call for Evidence’ will be followed by a final ‘Call for Evidence’ on 7 April 2017. Responses to these calls will be evaluated by a meeting of JVET in Turin, Italy, 14-21 July 2017.

As ever the adoption of any new video standard will also be slow, which is due to a variety of reasons such as complicated licensing arrangements and the fact that more advanced video standards tend to also require more powerful computer processors (CPUs). All of this can translate to higher costs and no company wants to lose customers by adopting a new standard too quickly (i.e. forcing those without the capability off their platform).

Never the less the importance of online video means that it’s worth keeping an eye on changes like this, which can have a significant if seamless impact on our collective Internet video consumption. Making IPTV services more widely accessible would be another obvious bonus.

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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11 Responses
  1. Tom Bartlett

    Will it be royalty free, like AV1?

  2. Pedant

    Just to be a pedant – 4K is not 3840 × 2160. That’s Ultra HD. 4K would be 4096 × 2160.

    Still, this is exciting for those suffering under poor connections.

    • 4K as in 4096 is for Projectors / Cinema, while 4K everywhere else (monitors, TVs, Smartphones, Tablets etc.) means 3840. We are talking about the latter above.

    • Data Analysis

      You will not see many if any videos at 4096 × 2160 for the home market. That would be an aspect ratio of roughly 256:135, or approximately a 1.9:1 (or almost a 16/8 aspect) which would mean on a common 16/9 screen you would have about a quarter of an inch black bar encoded into the video at the top and bottom of the video.

      That resolution in cinema dates back almost a decade ago when DCI thought 3-D stereoscopic films 4k would take off and they squashed the picture slightly vertically to minimise the blur between the 2 different images being projected. Or hoped cinemas would have a custom screen for that and other content which was slightly wider.

      The modern 4k (or to give its right name UHD ultra high definition) finally defined around 2014 has a standard 16/9 resolution of 3840×2160 as markJ mentions.

      Its academic in many situations as most films nowadays are 2.35:1 or 2.40:1 which obviously will have a vastly reduced vertical res (unless content is interlaced or has some weird IVTC applied).

      The newer 4k UHD spec makes far more sense. HD which is 1920×1080 has a total of 2073600 pixels 4k UHD is 3840×2160 which is a total of 8294400 pixels.

      8294400 divided by 4 (as in the 4k) comes back out as 2073600. Which thus makes far more sense than the older spec.

  3. These patent encumbered formats are useless. We need patent free ones. For audio we already have Opus codec (and we had Ogg Vorbis before Opus) which is way ahead of competitors. Of course later this yeah MP3 will also become patent free but it has inferior quality to both Vorbis and especially Opus.

    For video I would rather use VP9 at the moment which is comparable to H.265 in terms of compression. And for future we have Daala codec in development.

    • Data Analysis

      Most of the 4k stuff you view online is not in H.265 format anyway its in AV1 or VP9 netflix amazon and youtube (google) AFAIK all use AV1 or VP9 anyway. which is open source and likely to be the chosen codec for streaming content for some time. License fees for H.265 or HEVC are expensive.

  4. Chris

    Accelerated hardware encoding and decoding will need to go hand in hand with new compression codecs and indeed that is what we already see today, if rather slowly. I have a puny Celeron powered Intel NUC with H.265 acceleration – 4K at only 30fps though 🙁 It makes a fantastic set top box for Plex as it direct plays everything. Better codecs should help keep down the cost of broadband for all users and will obviously help those on poor connections the most.

    I am amazed at the relatively acceptable quality I stream Netflix on a 3Mbps connection.

    It is a bit chicken and egg though, Intel H.265 acceleration only arrived after the codec became relatively popular on file sharing sites up to which point many CPU cycles were needed. As far as I am aware h.265 is still not supported on a great many devices and that is likely to take years to be resolved.

  5. MikeW

    I recall reading a paper on FTTP last year, describing the changes on the demand side. It reckoned that bandwidth needs halved every 7 years for a given video quality, because of improvements on the codec side.

    I guess this is to be seen in that context – preparation for the next great leap in a few years’ time.

    • Data Analysis

      They kinda got that wrong then. The prior (or most common still) spec to H.265 is H.264/AVC which dates back to its first use being in May 2003. By the end of 2004/early 2005 it had became quite common in cinema use. Varying profiles were then added for about a year.

      In mid 2006 bluray was then released.

      Since then various tweaks have been made to the codec but nothing of any real significance. (extra profiles such as high intra, the MVC (Multiview Video Coding) etc)

      H.264 though is over a decade old.

    • MikeW

      I’m not sure it is talking about intervals between release dates of specifications. I think it includes the ways in which the specifications are being used.

      That brings into play a few more things – like the capability of silicon being developed for set-top boxes, for graphics cards, for TVs and the like; that’s all subject to Moore’s law, so higher capabilities get cheaper over time. That’s a gradual development, that doesn’t happen in one fell swoop at the time the specs are released.

      As those set-top boxes and graphics cards get cheaper, the content companies gradually adopt them, making access easier. Takeup of those boxes is a relatively slow affair.

      It takes all of these slow, gradual processes for the benefits to show on nationwide statistics. Given the huge distribution in encodings, subscriptions, silicon etc, we’re much more likely to see 10% reductions year-on-year, rather than 50% reductions in one-off blocks at 7 years. But it is the same outcome.

  6. Nigel Boggis

    “Nevertheless” is written as one word.
    Written as three words it has a completely different meaning.
    A free FYI for you.

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