Apple disclosed at the World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC) 2017 this week that it has officially selected the High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC) compression standard as its codec of choice for next-generation video streaming.

Apple executives said that HEVC decoding and encoding would find support in all iOS 11, tvOS 11, and macOS High Sierra devices.

HEVC (a.k.a. H.265) is the primary compression scheme used for 4K Ultra HD and High Dynamic Range (HDR) video and rivals Google’s open VP9 system, which is used for 4K video on YouTube among other places.

Apple opted to pay royalties on HEVC rather than go along with its competitor’s system.

The greater efficiency of HEVC will also enable recording more video using less memory on mobile devices and Macs. For still images and image sequences, the company also revealed that it would support a new format called the High Efficiency Image File Format, or HEIF, which is a standard developed by the Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG) for storage and sharing of images and image sequences. HEIF will use HEVC compression in Apple devices to store up to 2X better compression than JPEG.

The move almost certainly assures that 4K streaming, possibly with HDR, will appear in next-generation Apple TV devices; it also points to the imminent acceleration of 4K UHD TV viewing on small screens.

Read more on Apple’s endorsement of HEVC compression after the jump:

Since the arrival of 4K Ultra HD video, HEVC’s use has become pervasive. It is part of the specifications for Ultra HD Blu-ray players (although Apple does not support that particular implementation – HEVC in MPEG-2 TS) as well as in the next-generation ATSC 3.0 digital TV broadcast standard, which the United States will implement in coming years. Mobile TV reception is a big part of that new digital television broadcast platform.

Also, virtually all 4K Ultra HD TVs with built-in smart features include HEVC decoding today.

HEVC is also the format of choice for most over-the-top video streaming services providing 4K Ultra HD offerings.

Now, with mobile devices moving to high-resolution screens including those using OLED technology, 4K Ultra HD video is poised to reach the palms of younger-generation audiences. These Millennials have shown themselves to be less enamored with the traditional big-screen TV viewing habits of their parents.

With the move, HEVC will add approximately 1 billion active iOS devices around the world to its roster of supporting products.

The decision could also motivate more streaming services, and even Apple’s own iTunes distribution service, to move away from the older AVC H.264 standard and possibly to even re-encode existing OTT streaming libraries to H.265.

Apple had put off official support of HEVC until its declaration this week.

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In making the announcement, Apple said the format’s greater efficiency led to the decision. The standard was said to enable reducing the video bit rate by up to 40 percent without loss of visual quality compared to the prior standard,  H.264. Others have claimed HEVC generates even higher efficiency bit rates.

Although used primarily for 4K Ultra HD video, HEVC can also be applied to lower-resolution HD video sources for greater bandwidth savings. Some televisions in the market, like many Samsung Full HD 1080p models, support HEVC for 1080 content today.

As for impacted Apple products, Apple said that all iPhones and iPads using the A9 chip or later 6th- and 7th-gen Intel Core (Kaby Lake) based Macs will support HEVC hardware acceleration after being updated to iOS 11 and macOS High Sierra, respectively.

All other iOS devices and Macs compatible with iOS 11 and macOS High Sierra will support HEVC software decoding.

Older devices based on less powerful processors, including the Apple TV 4 (using the A8 chip), will be able to receive a software update to enable HEVC encoding/decoding, although this will likely only extend to HEVC encoded HD content and not full 4K UHD.

Apple’s implementation of HEVC will use HTTP Live Streaming (HLS) as fragmented MP4 (fMP4), and will not extend to the MPEG-2 TS system selected in the Ultra HD Blu-ray standard.


By Greg Tarr


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