H.265 begins to flavor the video codec soup

By Paul Dempsey |  No Comments  |  Posted: April 10, 2013
Topics/Categories: Blog - Embedded, IP, - Standards  |  Tags: , , ,  | Organizations: , ,

The race to develop embedded hardware versions of the H.265 video compression standard moved up a notch in January with its formal approval by the International Telecommunications Union. Many observers think that this critical seeding necessary for the consumer market is still maybe 12 months away. However, the NAB broadcast technology show saw two companies, Texas Instruments and Vanguard Video, unveil software implementations aimed at early adopters on the infrastructure side.

H.265 (also known as HEVC – High Efficiency Video Coding) has the capability to cut up to 50% in required bandwidth against today’s de facto standard, H.264, though 40-45% has been cited as a more ‘realistic’ range. Nevertheless, the codec promises reliable streaming of HD video to portable devices over wireless networks and transmission at 4k resolution (typically 3,840 x 2,160px) over existing broadcast networks. Needless to say, many wireless companies see it as an important differentiator for their next generation of handheld devices.

H.265 has been specifically designed to take account of parallelism and the increasing capabilities of multicore silicon. Another key milestone for the technology has been the ability to demonstrate encoding in real-time, one now claimed by both of the NAB-announced offerings.

At NAB, TI announced a ‘pre-production’ software implementation of H.265 running on an eight-core Keystone DSP (TMS320C6678). Its current goal is to allow users to introduce their own differentiated implementations of the technology in software for applications such as  multimedia gateways, IMS media servers, video conferencing servers and video broadcast equipment. The codec also comes pre-optimized for Advantech’s DSPC-8681 and DSPC-8682 PCIe cards.

Vanguard Video ran its implementation on a Xilinx Kintex-7 multicore FPGA. This is being offered in the form of a software development kit, again aimed at users who want to develop infrastructure ahead of H.265’s wider use when hardware implementations take it into consumer devices.

“It is very difficult to encode H.265 in real-time because it is extremely resource intensive. A real-time software implementation today requires Intel Xeon or similar high end x86 processors,” said Vanguard CEO Irena Terterov. “By offloading processing of various H.265 components onto a Xilinx FPGA we are able to achieve higher performance with lower cost x86 CPUs.”

H.265 is thought likely to face a less arduous technical path to wide adoption than H.264. However, as the professional market begins to use the standard for real, some questions still remain as to how network operators will price wired and wireless access to much higher quality streaming video.

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