All of that squabbling over H.264 may be rendered moot in the near future. The Motion Picture Experts Group (better known as MPEG) has just let us know that it was quietly drafting a new video standard while everyone was on summer vacation last month: H.265, also called High Efficiency Video Coding, promises to squeeze video sizes with double the efficiency of H.264. As you might imagine, this could lead either to a much smaller video footprint for bandwidth-starved mobile users or a hike to image quality with the same size as before. Imagine fast-loading HD streaming on 4G, or cable TV without all the excess compression, and you've got the idea. Ericsson Research visual technology lead Per Fröjdh anticipates H.265 coming as soon as 2013, when our smartphones and tablets are most likely to play it first. TV and other areas might have to wait, although Fröjdh is offering a consolation prize -- he's teasing a separate MPEG project that could give us glasses-free, compressed 3D video as a standard by 2014.
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MPEG issues video compression draft
The Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG) has met to issue a draft international standard of a new video-compression format that is twice as efficient as current standards.
The meeting, held in Stockholm July 16-20, gathered almost 450 people from 26 countries representing the telecoms, computer, TV and consumer electronics industries to approve and issue a draft standard for High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC). This format will enable compression levels roughly twice as high as the current H.264/AVC standard.
"There's a lot of industry interest in this because it means you can halve the bit rate and still achieve the same visual quality, or double the number of television channels with the same bandwidth, which will have an enormous impact on the industry," says Per Fröjdh, Manager for Visual Technology at Ericsson Research, Group Function Technology, who organized the event as Chairman of the Swedish MPEG delegation.
The availability of a new compression format to reduce bandwidth, particularly in mobile networks where spectrum is expensive, paves the way for service providers to launch more video services with the currently available spectrum.
"Video accounts for the vast majority of all data sent over networks, and that proportion is increasing: by 2015, it is predicted to account for 90 percent of all network traffic," Fröjdh says.
MPEG, which was formed by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) in 1988, has had a long partnership with Ericsson Research. Its experts meet four times per year to discuss, propose and issue international standards for compression, decompression, processing, and coded representation of moving pictures and audio. MPEG standardized the digital audio encoding formats MP3 and Advanced Audio Coding (AAC), which is the music format used by Apple in their consumer offerings.
"MPEG has a big impact on the industry and on consumer electronics. On the video side, almost all digital terrestrial, satellite and cable TV services rely on video codecs standardized by MPEG," Fröjdh says. "When you buy a DVD or Blu-ray Disc, the compression format also uses MPEG standards."
Opening the meeting and welcoming the MPEG community, Erik Ekudden, Ericsson's Head of Technology Strategies & Industry, spoke about the move toward the Networked Society and how video is playing such a dominant part in this transformation.
"It's therefore important for Ericsson to be involved with MPEG, as we're very strong in mobile broadband. Anything to do with video compression over mobile broadband is a key concern to Ericsson, so we need to be on top of this technology evolution," he says.
"We're also one of the main contributors to these standards. That means we can drive our technology and leadership into these standards and have patents that protect our inventions that go into these standards, which are then implemented into millions of devices."
Fröjdh believes that the HEVC format discussed by MPEG in Stockholm could be launched in commercial products as early as in 2013.
"It will take time before it's launched for a TV service, but adoption is much quicker in the mobile area, and we'll probably see the first services for mobile use cases next year," he says.
Another area where Fröjdh's Visual Technology team is working with MPEG is a new kind of 3D video compression format, which would enable a new standard for 3D video systems that would do away with 3D glasses. Fröjdh says the technology could be standardized by 2014.
"Future 3D technology will have more advanced displays, which will enable different views," he says. "The simpler versions of this technology will still just offer the two views we have today – left and right – without the need for glasses. But in the future, there will be many views next to each other, so you will simply move your head to the left or the right to give you a stereo impression of an object."