More video! Apple's new HEVC codec cuts storage needs, but should you care?

Apple claims its new and improved codec delivers the same quality with half the file size, or better quality with the same size. OK, but the real question is, should you care? Only sometimes.

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In the recent WWDC keynote, Apple touted their new and improved codec, HEVC (H.265), claiming the same quality with half the file size, or better quality with the same size. OK, but the real question is, should you care? Only sometimes. Here's why, and where.

HEVC is based on the H.265 and MPEG-H standards. It offers about double the compression of the current standard, H.264, at about the same quality. It also supports video resolutions up to 8k (8192x4320).

Pretty cool, huh? Maybe.

The trade-offs

Stripped of the technohype, HEVC offers two main benefits. Cram twice as many videos and photos into your current storage. Or, use half the bandwidth for today's quality streaming video.

But here's the rub: to get hardware support for HEVC, you need to have an Intel Skylake or newer CPU, or a newish graphics processor, such as Radeon R9 Fury, GeForce GTX 960/950, Tegra X1, Apple A8, or Exynos 5 Octa.

Mobile CPUs picked up on HEVC support years ago: the Apple A8 debuted in 2014; the Tegra X1 in 2015. If you upgrade your mid-range or better phone every couple of years, you're probably covered already.

Capacity?

Even if, like most of us, you have a fairly new PC from, say 2014, you probably don't have hardware HEVC support. So is it worth it to run out and buy the latest to get it?

Not if capacity savings is your concern. You can buy external storage for $25 a terabyte. A hundred dollars will store thousands of feature length videos, regardless of codec.

Bandwidth?

HEVC's lower bandwidth is the bigger win, especially for congested mobile use. It improves the chance that you'll get smooth video, even in mid-town Manhattan or San Francisco's SOMA. HEVC will also help with battery life - if you watch a lot of video on the go.

But unless you have severe capacity caps on your home service, it isn't much of a win, even for PC users who watch a lot of streaming video. So, mobile devices, yes - where HEVC is already well supported - PCs, no.

The Storage Bits take

The PC industry is struggling to offer consumers and businesses compelling reasons to upgrade perfectly good hardware. But the days when PC performance would double every three years are long gone - and are not coming back.

HEVC is a step-wise enhancement. Dramatic on its own, but within the context of a an entire PC purchase, a nice-to-have.

For one, there's no online 8k content today, and it's far from certain that consumers will ever care. For many PC users, the capacity savings on streaming video aren't compelling either. Streaming VR gaming could drive it, but first we have to have local VR take off.

Still, I applaud the industry for pushing ahead. But consumers and businesses have to remain vigilant, and think about how shiny new features actually affect your daily life.

Courteous comments welcome, of course.

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