New H.266 codec uses half the data to stream 4K video

It will require just 5GB for a 90-minute UHD video compared to 10GB with HEVC.


Fraunhofer, the German company that helped develop the H.264, H.265 and MP3 encoding formats, has unveiled a new video encoding standard that could severely reduce streaming bottlenecks. Called H.266/Versatile Video Coding (VVC), it’s specifically designed for 4K and 8K streaming and reduces data requirements by around 50 percent compared to H.265 HEVC (high-efficiency video coding). At the same time, the improved compression won’t compromise visual quality.

The company developed the codec in collaboration with partners including Apple, Ericsson, Intel, Huawei, Microsoft, Qualcomm and Sony. It will be licensed by the Media Coding Industry Forum (MC-IF), a group with 34 major member companies. The aim there is to avoid the kind of licensing squabbles that plagued the H.264 codec a decade ago.

Because of the quantum leap in coding efficiency offered by H.266/VVC, the use of video will increase further worldwide. Moreover, the increased versatility of H.266/VVC makes its use more attractive for a broader range of applications related to the transmission and storage of video.

Fraunhofer said that if a 90-minute, H.265/HEVC-encoded movie is about 10GB, it would only be 5GB for the same quality when encoded with the new codec. “Because H.266/VVC was developed with ultra-high-resolution video content in mind, the new standard is particularly beneficial when streaming 4K or 8K videos on a flat screen TV,” Fraunhofer said. At the same time, it will support all formats from 480p on up.

Once implemented, VVC could allow a stark reduction in traffic from services like Amazon Prime Video, Hulu and Netflix. Video streaming takes the lion’s share of the world’s internet bandwidth, something that’s become starkly apparent in the COVID-19 era. Because of the jump in traffic during pandemic lockdowns, services like Netflix and YouTube agreed to reduce default streaming rates to take the strain off web infrastructure.

At the same time, streaming services could use VCC to offer higher 4K HDR quality without increasing bandwidth, given the more efficient compression. The new system will also be indispensable once 8K video — with quadruple the bandwidth requirements of 4K — enters the mainstream.

There’s no software standard yet for VCC encoding and decoding, though Fraunhofer said it will deliver one this fall. The company added that “the new chips required for the use of H.266/VVC, such as those in mobile devices, are currently being designed.” In other words, it might still be awhile before you see the tech working on your TV, smartphone or computer.