While the industry has been standardising on H.264 or Advanced Video Coding for video compression, experts have been working on its successor, H.265, otherwise known as High Efficiency Video Coding, or MPEG-H Part 2. This promises to increase significantly the compression that can be achieved for a given picture quality, meaning that less storage or transmission capacity is required, or that even higher resolution and better quality can be delivered economically. Among other things, it could make Ultra High Definition Television a practical proposition.

The Moving Picture Experts Group, MPEG, met in Stockholm in July to approve and issue a draft international standard for High Efficiency Video Coding or HEVC. It is claimed that this will enable double the compression ratio of 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,” said Per Fröjdh of Ericsson, who organized the event as the chairman of the Swedish MPEG delegation.

He believes that the HEVC format discussed 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.”

Among other many other innovations, HEVC replaces regular macroblocks with variable size coding units that partition the picture into regions ranging from 4×4 to 64×64 pixels.

It includes support for progressively scanned video at 1920×1080 resolution at a range of frame rates, at up to 300 frames per second.

The HEVC format can support resolutions up to 7680×4320 at 120 frames per second, which is relevant to 4K and 8K Ultra High Definition TV or Super Hi-Vision, which has 16 times the spatial resolution of high-definition pictures. This system was used experimentally in the London 2012 Olympic Games.

The final draft international standard for H.265 is due in January 2013 ready for ratification.

Meanwhile MPEG LA, which issues licences for H.264, is calling for the submission of patents that are essential to the new standard to create a new patent pool. Ultimately it may be licensing issues, and the participation of those companies holding essential patents, which may determine the success of the proposed H.265 standard.

Industry investment in H.264 is such that it is unlikely to be displaced in the foreseeable future, but for new applications, from mobile video to ultra high definition, it seems that improvements in the efficiency of video compression are advancing rapidly.