Jumping the Gun on Migrating to H265 HEVC

There was a lot of complaining when the agreed format for releasing pirated content was updated in 2012. A similar change has started to take place again, except this time the release groups have actually gotten it wrong.

In 2012 the SD content format was changed from the long-standing AVI format, to the newer MP4  format. This represented a change in format as well as encoding, with the older XviD being replaced with the much newer, more efficient, H264. When this change took place there was much anger as this was the first time since online downloading of media became prevalent that such a change had taken place.

Jump forward to 2016 and another change is taking place. This time though, the transition is less reactionary and more preemptive, arguably too much so. With the newer H265 encoding standard having been settled on in the mid 2015, a change was inevitable. This change looked to supplant his older H264 with the newer, again more efficient H265 standard.

H264 was already well supported when the move was made from Xvid (DivX) to x264 (H264) in 2012.  The standard was already on version 16, had been released in one form or another since 2003, and prolific hardware support. With H265 only a year old the hardware support is not nearly at the same level.

Chief among these concerns is the all-important playback of these files. CPUs make use of dedicated computer chips for hardware acceleration to avoid relying on system-intensive software decoding in order to play content. The issue is that hardware takes much longer to catch up with new features than software does. There are software solutions to decode H265, but they are extremely system intensive for even a powerful desktop processor. Dedicated decoding hardware is needed for mainstream adoption.

As of right now Intel’s own site provides an insight into the dire situation facing users looking to view H265 content right now. The latest generation of processors, as of writing this, is the 6th generation core family, codename Skylake. This generation only supports 8-bit H265 decoding (the full standard calls for 10-bit). The situation is worse for previous processor generations with Broadwell only supporting a hybrid hardware/software 8 bit encode, and Haswell relying solely one a software decoder.

The first processor generation which is slated to support hardware encoding and decoding of the full 10-bit H265 standard is the 7th generation core series, codename Kaby Lake, which is due out in the second half of 2016. This means that widespread adoption of supported devices should really only be expected to start in early 2017.

This makes the choices of releasing pirated content in H265 right now all the more odd. With next to no devices able to adequately handle H265 content there is no rush to start releasing content in it. While it is nice to see that these releasers are actively trying to stay current, they also need to consider who is watching the content. There is no need to rush into moving to H265. The standard isn’t going anywhere, and demand for the more efficient encoding will sell itself when the time comes. This change is going to be a welcome one, when the time is right. That time just isn’t now, its around this time next year.



Hayward Peirce Written by:

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