tearsofsteel_01 Distribution, Marketing

Codec Chaos: Decoding The Impact of HEVC (H.265)


Just when you thought that you had gotten cozy with your AVC (H.264) codec, technological advances with in the horizon are set to change how we experience the content that’s developed on the smaller screens.   While updates to HEVC (H.265) are likely to cause the inevitable headaches to workflow, thereby costing you some time and money – be patient (very patient). This “codec chaos” may not be such a bad thing once and if it takes effect.

THE HEIR OF THE CODEC

The new High Efficiency Video Codec (HEVC) or H.265 codec is set to be the successor to the highly popular and widely used H.264 / Advance Video Codec (AVC) and it can’t be more exciting as it is creatively stimulating.  Literally, this advancement is like seeing the future unfold before our very eyes.

As a filmmaker, you always want eyes on your picture but swimming up the bit rate stream, when it comes to showing your best stuff, can be downright frustrating.  We’ve all had that moment.  Yep, that one when you’re showing your prized film via Youtube or Vimeo to friends or a potential employer… the slight pixelation then the dreaded loading bar.  Will your film ever cross the buffer finish line?   How frustrating and annoying, right?!

That’s where HEVC comes to play…

08_captain_thomIf it’s adopted, it will have a impact on how audiences view your projects.  Whether you’re a credible film critic or just enjoy watching the new web based channels, HEVC is set to make your viewing experience twice as fast without sacrificing your creative intension.

HEVC reduces the bitrate by half, while keeping the integrity of your image intact. What does this mean? Well, don’t be surprised if your film gets more views, more play time, which at the end of the day, can mean more money in your digital wallet. After all, time is money.

But most importantly, if you’ve ever created films with a higher intension of actually immersing an audience through the web so that they experience what you had intended for them to experience, the payoff will likely leave you satisfied.

Now, I understand it’s still not here and it has yet to be implemented across the various encoders, transcoders, decoders, mobile devices, etc… (and for some really technical and legal reasons related to intellectual property  and patents law, it may be a while) but there are a few visual examples popping up that are beginning to form a wave of anticipation and hype over this heir of the codec.

TEARS OF STEEL

Take look at this technologically satisfying sci-fi 12-minute short from the Blender Foundation called ‘Tears of Steel’:

DIVX Labs is currently using ‘Tears of Steel’ to implement how we will eventually see films on our very own glossy screens. This version was intended for the 4K screen and with some snazzy visual effects for a short film, rightfully so. But getting 4K through the venomous snake of fiber optic cable, over wi-fi, or dare I say DSL or dial-up — is still far away from a reality, however, it’s on the horizon.

Thanks to the Blender Foundation: Mango Open Movie Project, you can see that the imagery of Tears of Steel with a 4K resolution serves as an excellent example of how an emerging filmmaker may be able to benefit from such technology.  There’s a lot of merit to this film given the visual effects at low budgets (Tears of Steel was produced at an estimated €300,000 EUR – that’s roughly $392,400 USD).

There are an array of pictures at their intended resolution (which can be found across this post), that show exactly what a still from the film may look like if HEVC is implemented.  Due to the limitations of the current codec technology, the above film is the what the film looks like using the AVC (H.264) codec reduced from its 4K intended format.  Clearly, there is a discernible difference; to a filmmaker, the difference on how your film is delivered to your audience can have a significant financial impact as more web-based series and other such content is developed. (For a really technical explanation at the difference between AVC (H.264) and HEVC (H.265) check out the video at the bottom of this post.)

DECODING CHAOS OF HEVC

Consider this, Facebook is getting ready to rev up the content-generation engine again as they roll out video services to over 100 million users on Instagram, even more high quality video will require more bandwidth as people around the world dare to cross their bitstreams to get noticed on the web.

Combine that with Rovi Corporation and Broadcom’s news that an UltraHD (4K)  HEVC chip is also in the works to work with television sets and there’s no doubt that others like Netflix, for example, are bound to consider the avenues emerging from this technology since it saves money on the back-end through its reduction of bandwidth, while still delivering high quality product from producers. Distributors will no doubt reduce their costs as a result of HEVC.

From a  June 10, 2013 press release, Richard Nelson, Broadcom’s Senior Vice President of Marketing, Broadband Communication Group stated “We are also positioning our customers to leverage HEVC’s bandwidth-saving capabilities to deliver more content at lower bandwidths without sacrificing picture quality, or deliver higher quality video without incurring more bandwidth costs.”

14_captainAnd while it may be years before we really see the shift to UltraHD, there is a unique fusion of large and small screen formats meeting at a crossroads through the HEVC codec.  In other words, 4K in the theatre can eventually  also mean 4K in the palm of your hand…  I’ll take it one step even further: how about theatrical releases in the comfort of your living room?  It may not be that far fetched.

However, in the meantime, expect this codec to cause more havoc before we actually get to see the beauty of 4K Ultra HD on the web or on our smart tv’s simultaneously.  Regardless, HEVC will no doubt be used in some way in the near future to calm the waters and provide an immersive experience that will leave audiences spellbound right from the comfort of their home.

For  you filmmakers, this new edge of technology will no doubt keep your imagination wondering just how the adaptation of HEVC will affect your workflow but be ready  to unleash your creative might as we cross the threshhold to a new wave of user generated content as well as the development of professional films alike.  As technology and imagination combine, filmmakers will no doubt reap some monetary benefits, whether they be from ad revenue shares or distribution deals for original content.

Chaos, after all, has an inert ability to thrive innovation, especially in the entertainment industry.

For a more technical in-depth explanation as to how the HEVC codec really works here’s a codec science lesson, courtesy of vcodex :

High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC) Walkthrough by Vcodex from vcodex on Vimeo.

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