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A Guide to High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC)

Monday, July 7, 2014

All the excitement about the next generation of high definition displays has centered around 4K technology. About 12 years ago standard definition CRT televisions started being replaced by high definition LCD and plasma TVs. This was a significant enhancement to the viewing experience and changed television viewing as the world knew it moving forward. There hasn’t been a significant technology breakthrough like HDTV since. More recently, 3D technologies have offered an enhanced viewing experience, but suffer from the need to have and wear glasses. Several companies are working on technologies that offer a “3D without glasses” solution. The last few years have brought on several parallel technology evolutions that collectively may offer a similar TV breakthrough to what HDTV brought us in the new millennium. These new technologies are 4Kx2K Ultra-High Definition, HDMI 2.0, HDCP 2.2, and High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC).

What is HEVC, and Do I Need It in My Next TV?

Many people are familiar with the terms High Definition, HDMI, and possibly HDCP. These are existing technologies in most of today’s TVs. At the major electronics tradeshows and conferences such as NAB (National Association of Broadcasters), CES (Consumer Electronics Show), and Computex, there are new 4Kx2K displays all over the show floor. However, the technology being discussed behind the doors in closed suites and confidential conference rooms is HEVC.

To understand the significance of HEVC, we first need to step out of the conference room and back onto the main show floor. That’s where we find booth after booth showing off content on the latest 4Kx2K ultra-high definition LCD and LED panels. The quality of a 4Kx2K video image is noticeably more detailed than today’s existing 1080p TVs. This improved image quality is going to be fast tracking its way into living rooms in the years to come. However, new TVs that can support 4Kx2K resolution need to have content provided at the ultra-high definition resolution or there is no difference in the image displayed.

The delivery of 4Kx2K content to next generation displays is where HEVC comes in. HEVC is the newest mainstream method of video compression that allows an ultra-high definition 4Kx2K image (or series of images making up a video stream) to be compressed into a small enough memory space that the 4K content can be streamed to displays that support viewing of the 4K content. HEVC is not the first or only compression technology, but it is the latest and is considered as the follow-on to H.264, another compression standard that is widely used today delivering 1080p (1920x1080) HD video content. The jump from 1920x1080 pixels to 4096x2160pixels is a fourfold increase in the amount of pixels shown at one time for a frame (image) of video. In order to keep up with the need to stream 4x more data, HEVC yields a 2x improvement in compression, so the amount of data actually required for streaming is only 2x the original 1080p data. HEVC also supports lower resolutions, so today’s 1080p video can be streamed in about ½ the file size using HEVC instead of H.264. In fact, HEVC was designed with growth in mind and will support all the way up to 8K UHD (8192x4320 resolution)! In addition to supporting high compression rates, HEVC was also designed to support ultra-low latency encoding. HEVC also supports a few other features, such as a wider color range with a standard 10-bit bit depth (future support for 12-bit) and also 4:4:4 chroma sampling.

HEVC will play a large part in delivering the latest 4Kx2K ultra-high definition resolution content to our next generation televisions and displays. Symmetry Electronics has partnered with a number of companies offering HEVC silicon solutions. Most companies are offering software or DSP based solutions. A couple are leading the path with a hardware solution. Symmetry has been talking to early adopter customers about the advantages of both options and see the interest in this technology ramping quickly in 2015, with some designs already starting now.

Interested in incorporating HEVC into your design? Call Symmetry at (310) 536-6190, or contact us online to discuss the best way to integrate HEVC. 



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