Apple’s blessing crowns HEVC king of video compression

apple phone (Pixabay)

In no uncertain terms, the online video industry has taken Apple’s adoption of high efficiency video codec (HEVC) for iOS 11 to signal the anointment of that compression standard as king of video codecs.

By choosing to go with HEVC (H.265), Apple will allow users to enjoy smaller file sizes for video and reduced bitrates for streaming, while maintaining high quality of images. The benefits will include clearer video streams and lessened impact on storage.

Specifically, H.265 can provide high quality video at bitrates about 50% less than H.264.

The benefit for the online video industry as a whole might be best understood in terms of scale.

“What Apple delivers to the industry with adoption of HEVC is 1 billion active iOS devices across the globe, where consumer demand for video has never been higher,” Streaming Media’s Dan Rayburn succinctly described in a blog post.

For Beamr, a video compression software provider which has worked on HEVC since 2014 and counts Netflix among its compression customers, the news is monumental.

“This is a huge breakthrough and fantastic development for operators launching OTT services where the second screen (mobile devices) will be pivotal to their success,” said Mark Donnigan, vice president of sales & market development for Beamr.

Peter Moller, CEO of patent pool HEVC Advance, was pleased Apple was adding HEVC support to its product lineup.

“In particular, Apple’s adoption of HEVC will dramatically speed up adoption of this superior technology across all aspects of consumer devices and streaming, both in Apple products and as other market participants, currently on the side-lines, rush to adopt HEVC in their products to remain relevant and competitive. The video industry’s transition from AVC to HEVC encoded content will likewise speed up dramatically as HEVC decoding capability becomes ubiquitous. A big win for everyone and, especially, consumers,” Moller told FierceOnlineVideo.

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Of course, not everything about adopting HEVC will be perfect for iOS users right off the bat. As Streaming Media’s Jan Ozer points out, CPU limitations in some older iPhone models could mean HEVC is handled by software decoding, which could result in less battery life for those phones, specifically for the iPhones 5S, 6 and 6 Plus. The iPhone 7 has an A10 Fusion chip which will support hardware decoding.

Aside from benefits for mobile devices, desktops and laptops, HEVC arriving on both iOS 11 and Mac OS High Sierra could also signal the imminent arrival of an updated Apple TV.

With the addition of Kaby Lake, Intel’s latest processor which can handle 4K digital rights management, for the new MacBooks, along with the announcement of HEVC and 4K video support, it could mean that Apple is getting closer to launching a version of its Apple TV hardware that supports 4K.