A German research institute announced Tuesday a new video standard that halves the bitrate required for streaming, allowing higher quality images on lower-power devices and opening the door wider to adoption of super high-definition 8K content.
The Fraunhofer Heinrich Hertz Institute said the new codec, VVC – Versatile Video Coding, will not compromise video quality.
With ever-increasing demands on bandwidth for social media streaming, Zoom conferencing, 4K content and 360-degree panoramic videos, and especially during heightened web use spurred by global quarantines, VVC comes at an opportune time.
The increased transmission efficiency the codec promises to achieve would help major streaming services such as Amazon Prime Video and Hulu reduce costs as they prepare for higher-resolution fare down the road.
In order to obtain 8K quality streaming, current users would require internet connections of at least 85 megabits per second, which exceeds the capacities of many homes. But only half that rate would be required with VVC.
“Because H.266/VVC was developed with ultra-high-resolution video content in mind, the new standard is particularly beneficial when streaming 4K or 8K videos on a flat screen TV,” the Fraunhofer Institute said in a press release posted Tuesday.
“Through a reduction of data requirements, H.266/VVC makes video transmission in mobile networks (where data capacity is limited) more efficient. For instance, the previous standard H.265/HEVC requires 10 gigabytes of data to transmit a 90-min UHD video. With this new technology, only 5 gigabytes of data are required to achieve the same quality.”
The new codec would replace the seven-year-old standard H.265 HEVC (High Efficiency Video Coding). Although HEVC itself represented a twofold increase in efficiency over its predecessor, its use has been marked by drawn-out legal disputes over highly complex royalty system entangled by varying transmission standards for different devices and varying compression rates.
The Fraunhofer Institute says its format, designed in collaboration with Apple, Ericsson, Intel, Huawei, Microsoft, Qualcomm and Sony, and set to be adopted by the Media Coding Industry Forum comprised of 34 major companies, should avoid the royalty quagmire posed by HEVC.
Still, there are challenges ahead before VVC could be universally adopted. For one, VVC demands greater processing power. Its decoding process is up to 10 times more complex than HEVC.
The encoding process, too, is lengthy; BBC research team tests found it took 6.5 times longer to encode VVC content than under the current standard. More powerful chips will be required to take on the task. Fraunhofer states, “The new chips required for the use of H.266/VVC, such as those in mobile devices, are currently being designed.”
Second, an alternative to HEVC already exists, and it’s free; AV1. The open-source codec is not as powerful as VVC but it is 30 percent more efficient than HEVC. It has been adopted by several major media players, including YouTube and Netflix.
Meanwhile, it will be some time before VVC could be implemented. There is no software available yet for coding and encoding the format. Fraunhofer says it expects to introduce such software this fall.
Fraunhofer HHI announced it has finalized the H.266 codec, also known as Versatile Video Coding (VVC). The new compression standard is expected to reduce file sizes by up to 50 percent compared with H.265, in exchange for an increase in overall complexity and a need for more powerful encoding and decoding horsepower. It can also be used to support features like 8K HDR without requiring huge amounts of bandwidth or tons of hard drive space.
The tradeoff, of course, is that VVC is harder to encode and decode. According to tests performed by BBC R&D, encoding H.266 is 6.5x longer than HEVC, while decoding took 1.5x longer. HEVC isn’t exactly known for speed as it is, so a 6.5x impact on encoding is a significant hit.
The goal is to improve on HEVC’s bandwidth by 50 percent and then enable 8K content between 2020 – 2022. It’s not clear, however, how much of a market for 8K content currently exists.
There is a diminishing return to chasing higher resolutions and a very real cap on the maximum size of a TV most consumers are going to buy. Larger screens benefit the most from higher resolutions, but not many people sit four feet away from an 8-foot display.
Another factor hindering the evolution of an 8K ecosystem is the question of cable and broadcast support. At the moment, the broadcast industry is beginning to deploy ATSC 3.0, a major revision to the Advanced Television Systems Committee.
ATSC 3.0 supports features like 4K broadcasting, wide color gamuts, and HDR. The standard, however, is not targeting 8K and the rollout is optional. Unlike the mandatory transition from NTSC to ATSC, ATSC 3.0 deployment is up to individual companies. There’s no mandate to include an ATSC 3.0 tuner inside a TV, for example.
Also, ATSC 3.0 contains some features that “improve” targeted advertising. So hurrah for that.
At any rate, the rollout of ATSC 3.0 is going to be the major focus for broadcasters. It’s not clear which codecs will be used — there are a number of articles diving into why H.265 adoption has been so slow compared with H.264.
It’s possible that the bandwidth improvements from H.264 to H.266 might be big enough to be enticing — a video that requires 10GB of storage when encoded in H.264 would theoretically only require 2.5GB when encoded in H.266 with no (again, theoretical) loss of quality.
The adoption rate of 8K TVs, however, is expected to be slow. According to a 2018 prediction by Strategy Analytics, only about 3 percent of the TV market will be 8K by 2023. The focus is expected to remain on 4K and features like WCG and HDR.
TV manufacturers have been optimistic, since the 4K market grew much faster than originally anticipated. The impact of the coronavirus on major electronics purchases is unknown, but unlikely to be positive.
We can expect to see H.266 support roll out gradually. Software encoders will likely come first, with both CPU and GPU support. Eventually, we’ll see hardware decode / encode blocks integrated into both phones and GPUs.
8K broadcasts aren’t likely to be a frequent occurrence in the US any time soon, and patent and royalty entanglements may harm overall adoption. But the improved storage compression will be welcomed by anyone with tons of data to process and a finite amount of space to shove it into.
More information: newsletter.fraunhofer.de/-view … 4SHcBTt/V44RELLZBp/1