So the last year has seen the slow rise of a new video codec that it is claimed will provide a better quality streaming video experience for the same bit rate, or let us squeeze 720p video into a stream that runs on a 1 Mega bit per second connection. The codec is hitting the headlines because it has just been ratified by the ITU.
So why does this grind my gears? Simply because the assumption from so many is that existing HD video is as good as it gets, I cannot be alone in watching films and when there are sharp scene changes or explosions to get annoyed at the block effects that can be present even on 4 Mbps bit rate H264 streams that claim to be HD material.
Having seen the same event in raw 1080p which means a bit rate of 1.6 Gbps, to see it in the edit suite where it is usually produced as a master with some compression, perhaps down to 220 Mbps, to see it transmitted over a satellite connection at 25 Mbps and then compressed further until you get the block fest that is Freeview, even the 10 Mbps HD streams from satellite TV pale into insignificance to the original version.
If H265 results in content producers deciding to try and save bandwidth then the codec will be a step back in time, in the same way Freeview has created more channels at the expense of the quality of picture. The cost of satellite transponder capacity means that there is a real chance of this happening, or the next range of TV standards will simply have the picture compressed down to fit existing infrastructure.
There is a Cisco demo of H.265 which looks impressive, but the key to H.265 will be not how it manages talking head type shows, but things like football matches where the grass pitch can become a green blob with poor encoding and more importantly how it manages the encoding and onward transmission of a live stream.
I am willing to bet if you took a master of any film and played it on a TV in store and labelled the set as ultra-HD it would sell like hot cakes compared to the other models with their Freeview or Freesat feeds. Not because the TV is better, but the feed has less artifacts and will blow people away with the clarity.
We should be increasing the bit rate of video at the exact same time as improving the codec’s used, this is where the wow factor will come from. If we move towards using H.265 to squeeze something that people will buy believing it to be HD into 1 Mbps streams, then we will be giving the politicians less reason to bother with upgrading broadband and broadcast TV infrastructure.