The march of technology continues on, with a steady drum beat advancements are made.
Displays and the content that brings them to life also march to the drum beat. Being reliant on a set of evolving standards that control the resolution and quality of that content. doesn’t help While we have all become accustomed to the current high definition and its standards – 720p, 1080p etc. – along with the H.264 codec, change is in the wind.
The H.265 codec is approaching the final stages of development, the new standard will allow for much higher resolution displays and far better compression ratios. This is the missing piece of the puzzle for the next generation of high definition, the 4k revolution.
Technologically, compatible displays already exists, with Toshiba and Sharp demonstrating 4k and 8k resolution LCD screens, while Sony and Red both sell 4k projectors, mostly to cinemas at the moment. For these ground-breaking TV’s there is no media readily available, the H.265 standard is the first step in addressing this issue.
The digital container for our content at the moment is H.264, with H.265 taking shape as the next generation standard. Like all great standards a committee is involved, in this case the industry groups involved includes ISO, MPEG and VCEG – International Organization for Standardization, Moving Picture Experts Group and Video Coding Experts Group -,all having participated in the development process for the last 2 years. The technology behind the new codec has been in development since 2004 when testing started on new compression techniques. All of the early development work would end up becoming the High Efficiency Video Coding – HEVC – H.265 standard. The successor to H.264.
The end result of the standard is the creation of a new codec, which is exactly what H.265 is, a coding decoding algorithm that is used to make the next generation Blu-ray players. H.265 is the first of a new generation of codec described as High Efficiency Video Coding – HEVC -, the new standard that will replace H.264 which was part of the AVC group of codecs. The fact that the new codec is the start of a new generation suggests the changes behind the scenes are going to be major. Large enough to break the previous codec.
To achieve the benefits of the higher resolutions HEVC’s, starting with H.265, will rely heavily on extra computational power to compress the signal far more efficiently than H.264, avoiding the need to increase the storage requirements of a movie. Currently if a movie fills a 25GB Blu-ray the same compression would mean that a 4k version of the movie would require 100GB of storage.
This was one of the main objectives of H.265, to provide a comparable picture to H.264 while using half the bitrate – bandwidth -..H.265 relies on having twice – or more – the processing power available along with the more efficient compression algorithms to make gains in compression, Theoretically all of this will allow a 4k movie to fit on to a Blu-Ray sized disk but would require a powerful decoder chip in the Blu-Ray player. This may cause the first generation of 4k Blu-Ray players and their decoder chips to be more expensive than the current generation Blu-ray and H.264 chipsets.
H.265 will span resolutions all of the current resolutions starting from 320×400 and past 1080p all the way up to 8k. Other resolutions include 2k resolution – 4096 x 2160 -, 4k resolution – 4520 x 2540 – and 8k resolution – 7860 x 4320 -. With the 8k resolution providing a 33.2 megapixel image these will be some demanding moving pictures. Obviously the standards designers believed the benefits are worth the trade off, and they are right of course.
Other Pieces of the puzzle
Working with the Japanese company NHK – Science & Technology Research Laboratories – Sharp, Sony and Toshiba have all demonstrated the technology. Sharp has a production ready 8k resolution LCD TV, Toshiba has demonstrated a 4k LCD, LG already has a 4K 3D LCD that will be on sale shortly. Sony and Red both already sell projectors capable of 4k.
Also required for the complete next generation eco system are storage and cables, to read and transmit the signal, getting the picture to the TV. The HDMI 1.4 standard is already compatible with the 4k resolution. Blu-Ray has recently updated it’s specification to include Blu-Ray 3D but there is so far no mention of 4k or higher resolutions yet. Blu-ray adoption of H.265 and the higher resolutions is the topic of many rumors at the moment but no concrete details are available. Sony’s recently announced the BDP-S790 Blu-ray player which already supports 4k up scaling from 1080p.
The H.265 draft should be completed in the next six months with the final ratification to happen in January 2013. With better compression and higher resolutions the future is becoming crystal clear. The new H.265 standard will bring 4k cinema resolutions to the masses. Initially only the very deep pocketed masses perhaps but it is a good start none the less.