HEVC(H.265) + UHDTV(4K) – What Does It Mean for IPTV?

Here some updated notes from my research last year into HEVC & UHDTV. I’ve aimed this at a general audience.

HEVC – High Efficiency Video Coding

A new more efficient video compression format is coming that will eventually replace the current standard workhorse H.264/MPEG4-AVC used by online video services.

HEVC (H.265) has been in research and development since 2004 and claims[1,2] to compress 50% better than H.264-AVC.

13-08-2013 12-09-28 PM
Looks like we potentially have a new law, ‘Compression improves to halve video file size every 10 years‘.

So with HEVC/H.265 current video formats could require half the bit-rate to stream or, to think of it another way, download at twice the speed.

UHDTV – Ultra High Definition Television

There is also a new digital video format and screen size on the horizon, UHDTV or ‘4K’.

‘4K’ is a confusing term because there are a lot of them, which is why for television, UHDTV is technically the correct term. Marketing however will dictate if the snappier ‘4K’ ends up being used instead.

Format Resolution Display aspect ratio Pixels
4K Ultra high definition television 3840 × 2160 1.78:1 8,294,400
Digital Cinema Initiatives 4k (native resolution) 4096 × 2160 1.90:1 (256:135) 8,847,360
DCI 4K (CinemaScope cropped) 4096 × 1714 2.39:1 7,020,544
DCI 4K (flat cropped) 3996 × 2160 1.85:1 8,631,360
Academy 4K (storage format) 3656 × 2664 1.37:1 9,739,584
Full aperture 4K (storage format) 4096 × 3112 1.32:1 12,746,752

(Source Wikipedia)

UHDTV is equivalent to four Full HD (1080p) screens.

13-08-2013 12-18-26 PM

Now the amount of information you need to compress quadruples when you double the width and height. size*2*2

… but HEVC halves the file size from H.264.  size/2

So we get  size*2*2/2 = size*2

So the UHDTV format compressed with HEVC will only end up being twice the size instead of four times the size.

Let’s look at these two impacts in more detail.

“Video will use 50% less bandwidth”

This means that the delivery of current SD and HD video will be easier and cheaper.

Video will consume less bandwidth and consume less space on CDNs.

This will allow IPTV services to penetrate deeper into existing markets and enter markets where the network was previously too slow.

In other words, less buffering and speedier downloads for those currently capable while those with borderline network speeds will be able to sustain a stream, where before they could not.

It takes time for mainstream industry to move, so I’d bet that where we first see the impact of this technology will be illegal downloads (and yes, porn [SFW]) which will have file sizes made smaller or kept the same but delivered at a higher quality.

This means it’s more important than ever that content providers and distributors set the price to effort ratio for legitimate vs illegal content acquisition correctly.

“UHDTV will only need twice the bandwidth of Full HDTV”

This will accelerate the practical benefit of UHDTV enabled devices.

Nielsen’s Law dictates that bandwidth for users increases 50% every year so if 1080p streaming is practical now, in theory, in a year from now, so will UHDTV.

There are commercial services (Netflix,Ustream,VUDU and more) currently offering 1080p streaming, so the clock is ticking.  Some have started early. (ODEMAXSony)

As for seeing UHDTV on Cable or Free to Air services, I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that..

  • It takes more than a year to table and ratify a broadcasting standard.
  • The TV manufacturers will then need to come to the party and implement it.
  • Enough UHDTV capable TVs need to be sold for there to be a large enough commercial audience.
  • Broadcasters will need to equip themselves for it.
  • Content creators will need to create content for it. Existing UHD content will need to be transsized.

In my opinion, I don’t think we will see UHDTV in a commercially meaningful way in Cable or Free To Air broadcasts till the end quarter of this decade, at the earliest.

So what is my point?

UHDTV TVs and computer monitors are coming. Some  ‘4K’ monitors are already under $1,500.

Plug a PC with a ‘4K’ video card into a ‘4K’ Monitor and you have a workable system.

We are long past online video being ‘postage stamp’ sized.  Online video is now at least as good a quality as what you can get on Free To Air and Cable Television.


UHDTV combined with HEVC means that for the first time, online video will be of a better quality than Free To Air and Cable Television.

I could imagine a Netflix ad campaign for a HEVC +UHDTV service along the lines of the old Trinitron ads. “You are only getting a quarter of the picture, watch TV on Netflix.

Once IPTV set-top boxes are capable of HEVC and UHDTV then “HDIPTV “could go mass market.

Assuming anybody cares.

Just because we can do 4K does not mean we need it. The end result could be that our videos just get smaller and 4K screens are a flop that nobody wants?

Personally I think the age-old advertising lever of “better quality” will win out. Unlike 3D or ‘Connected’, 4K will make sense to consumers as an easy to understand and tangible quality intrinsic to the screen. 4K has a hyper-real quality that makes a big impression. It will seem a worthwhile purchase. 

Let me know what you think. Evidence to the contrary or supportive is more than welcome.

In summary…

If HEVC delivers on its promise, it’s good for online video services.

If UHDTV screens reach mass market, unless you live in Japan, online video delivery services have a good chance of beating and outclassing Free To Air and Cable.

It has already begun.

Exciting times ahead.


James McParlane

About James McParlane

CTO Massive Interactive. Ex Computer Whiz Kid - Now Grumpy Old Guru.
This entry was posted in IPTV, Rants. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to HEVC(H.265) + UHDTV(4K) – What Does It Mean for IPTV?

  1. Tom says:

    James – you should check out the x265 HEVC encoder project… https://bitbucket.org/multicoreware/x265

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