Is Apple TV waiting on H.265 HEVC ratification?

Is Apple TV waiting on H.265 HEVC ratification?

Summary: At CES, the pundits worried over the super-high cost of super-high resolution televisions. And then there was the lack of Ultra HD content. But a forthcoming compression standard appears to be the fix, and Apple is already in the thick of it.


Much talk at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada, earlier this month — both yea and nay — was over the content delivery problems with Ultra HD, aka Ultra High-Definition video. It's the chicken and egg conundrum. You can buy a beautiful set costing about the price of a car (not an economy model), but there's little content. One of the issues is the industry-wide adoption of a newer and better codec to get all that Ultra HD video around the Internets without clogging the drains. Enter H.265, High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC).

The standard is a real ISO/IEC MPEG standard, and is due for ratification shortly, even in the first quarter of 2013. Codec software for testing has been announced. The standard will support a resolution of 8,192x4,320 pixels and can deliver double the data compression ratio of the current H.264. And unlike H.264, HEVC is also optimized for parallel processing, meaning different parts of the video image can be decoded simultaneously, bringing up the most important parts first, just like your browser.

At the Dreamtek blog, run by a team of UK video production consultants, a recent post on HEVC talks about the technology and its benefits for mobile video. And then there is the leading support from Apple.

Apple has already moved to support HEVC on its iPads — those sold in 2012 are HEVC compliant. As the below image (borrowed from RealNetworks) shows, HEVC is capable of significantly higher definition.

That's particularly interesting in light of Apple's constant quest to deliver high-resolution displays across all its devices, especially in light of the constant claims the company is plotting its way to introduce a dedicated Apple television set.

Will this be among the first available and affordable consumer televisions to be equipped with both Internet access and support for the coming standard? If so, it hints at future plans to offer up content using the standard via the iTunes Store.

Yet video market analysts say hold your horses. Dan Rayburn, principal analyst at Frost and Sullivan wrote on that there are many problems with quick adoption by the conservative and cost-conscious video industry. In a detailed analysis, Rayburn said that 2016 was a more likely target date for widespread adoption.

One can draw a parallel between the adoption curve of MPEG-4 as it gradually encroached into the supremacy of MPEG-2. We believe that while token adoptions--such as incorporation into DVB standards for terrestrial broadcasting--will occur in the short-term, and a few channels may also be launched by 2015, a critical mass of adoption will not begin to occur until at least 2016. History indicates this--even a decade after the launch of AVC, MPEG-2 remains a formidable force in Pay TV (particularly cable), owing to the massive footprint of legacy equipment such as set top boxes and transmission infrastructure that is all designed to work with MPEG-2 video.

Cost also remains an issue--many Pay TV operators in regions like Africa, Asia, and Latin America are choosing MPEG-2 rather than AVC because of the significantly lower cost of consumer premise equipment (CPE) and video encoders. Considering the massive wave of investment in AVC equipment that we have seen in the last two years, we expect at least 5 more years of equipment life before economically stressed broadcasters and service providers will consider systemic upgrades. Any video technology touches many components as it travels from glass to glass, such as cameras, NLE systems, video indexing systems, statistical multiplexers, satellite transponders, head-ends, and (perhaps most importantly) CPEs.

Similarly on the OTT side, transcoders, file formats, streaming protocols, streaming servers, content protection systems, network optimization platforms, and end devices all need to support HEVC before an end to end solution becomes broadly viable. In their continual endeavor to fight commoditization and drive demand through continued technological disruption, vendors of video technology and consumer electronics devices alike are engaged in fast and furious product development around HEVC, with many announcements made already and several more significant milestones expected throughout 2013.

This all sounds like the perfect fit for an Apple ecosystem. Apple wouldn't necessarily be balked by widespread adoption. The company owns the hardware side of equation in parts of its platforms, or could with the oft-rumored, next-gen Apple TV. Its mobile platforms are already compatible.

Apple also has the service side infrastructure: The iTunes Store, which now offers content 119 countries. Apple said that its iTunes business generated revenue of $2.1 billion in its first fiscal quarter. Why not be the first to offer the best video on the best hardware with the best content service?

Apple could also offer the best HD editing workstation--a refreshed Mac Pro. And the editing software for it.

Here's what Tim Cook, Apple CEO had to say on the current Apple TV business during this week's conference call with financial analysts:

Gene, you're asking me all questions I don't want to answer, but let me see if I can find some comments to make that productive. In terms of the product that we sell today, the Apple TV, we sold more last quarter than we've ever sold before, eclipsing 2 million during the quarter. It was up almost 60 percent year-on-year, and so there is actually very, very good growth in that product.

What was the small niche at one time the people loved, it is a much larger number...I have said in the past, this is an area of intense interest for us and it remains that. I tend to believe that there is a lot we can contribute in this space, and so we continue to pull the string and see where it leads us, but I don't want to be more specific.

We're waiting on the "intense interest." Perhaps another way of saying a super codec for super HD content.

Topics: Apple, Broadband, iPad, Operating Systems, Servers

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  • Is Apple TV waiting on H.265 HEVC ratification?

    too much ado about nothing. had it not for the bad press caused by its own incompetence, sony has more cachet in delivering designer consumer products. even jobs acknowledged sony's prowess in consumer design and manufacturing ...
    • Nice spin dude - wasted though

      I am a long time fan of Sony in case you are wondering.

      Sony is making 4K TV sets - this is about the abbility to deliver content to TVs including Sony sets.

      'Designer'? not the point at all.

      We need a standard for compression for 4K content. H.265 apparently is a contender.

      Apple is part of the push for standards - so you stupidly deflect this to be about Sony?

      I don't know about you but I am already producing 4K video content. To me the choice of codec is important.

      The best platform to produce 4K content on is OS X - in fact it works really well for this.

      & before you suggest otherwise - Asus used the array cam effect in a live kiosk to show how great their PCs were.

      To rapidly make videos of people jumping in a camera array - they chose to use Mac laptops with the logos covered - instead of their own PCs - why? Cause it worked and worked well and fast.

      I also use Macs to edit video for the same reasons.

      Now go and buy a Sony 4K TV - I would if I could.

      Right now I use a Samsung TV, a Sony Blu-ray player and to get better content and a more manageable interface I have an Apple TV connected to the Samsung, and often play from my iPhone 5 or my iPad.

      The world is not about what you think it is.
      • Bag of hurt?

        4k Blu ray?! Is Sony waiting for h.265 HEVC ratification? Yes!
        Wavelength 405
    • I agree for the most part.

      Yes Sony is pushing out 4k tv's, camera's, etc.. But if movies can come via the network like iTunes, and Netflix I believe it will accelerate the adoption. My question though is a current HD movie is around 3.5 to 4 gig. That is at 1080p.. When we bump this to 4320 x 7680 this is 16 times as many pixels! Even at double the compression that tells me the files will be 24 to 32 gig!!
  • Breaking the strangle hold of the cable companies?

    I hope Apple can do to cable providers what he did to the music industry then the cell providers, break their strangle hold. I understand many of you have choices between FIOS and a cable provider. Where I live, we only have the one cable provider, live too far out for DSL, satellite is an option for TV but not internet access. Basically we are at the Mercy of whatever the cable providers wants, they are a monopoly and they know it. All those great features you see advertised for Xfinity are for new customers, the current customers are trapped with 10+ year old technology which they won't let us upgrade. I want Apple to provide me an option to become my internet and content provider. At best I might get the latter but I hope they can pull another rabbit out of thin air if for noting else to create some competition.
  • Not The Real Issue

    the big real problem with Ultra HD is no one needs it now. at normal viewing differences our eyes simply can't resolve the extra detail it offers unless the screens are impractically huge, like 80"+.

    but - it would make a real difference for 3D HD viewing now, because 3D cuts actual resolution in half for its duplicate frames, and Ultra HD would boost it back up to HD levels. IF, that is, there was any 3D content to watch. but the mediacos are intentionally withholding the popular 3D movies from the TV rental/on demand market so you have to buy $15 IMAX movie tickets or $40 BD movies instead. and the networks they own refuse to invest in 3D equipment to broadcast live sports, its other big potential. in other words, the mediacos are doing their best to sabotage 3D TV, which also makes Ultra HD useless.

    so the immediate advantage of H265 will just be it's big chop in bandwidth demands for today's streaming video. that's a really good thing, but not a revolution. sure, Apple will deploy it quickly.