Digital video update cycles have historically been driven by display resolution, and the trend continues with the current advent of Ultra HD and its most widely recognized feature: 4K resolution.
With each resolution upgrade cycle come significantly larger video files that are necessary to hold the additional data. The step up to 4K from 1080p, which is what we see with standard HD, corresponds to a roughly tenfold increase in file size. There is no question that video is getting big. Once the bump to UHD happens, bitrates wil increase significantly. A 4K video will take at minimum four times the bandwidth of a 1080p video of similar quality. Given that UHD is about more than resolution and includes improvements in color, brightness, and numerous other features, the pipeline will need to be bigger still.
Until bandwidth infrastructure catches up to the streaming requirements of this higher resolution, there’s no way it will be able to support uncompressed file sizes. So how do streaming services keep up with the demand for UHD 4K content?
HEVC/H.265 is the successor of H.264, the popular codec for most online video today. HEVC is twice as efficient as H.264 and is likely to be the most used codec due to its international momentum, but concerns have arisen around associated royalty fees. HEVC Advance, which will administer the codec licenses, has recently responded to negative feedback regarding such fees and announced last week that it is reconsidering the previously announced royalty structure. It’s still not clear if any changes will take place or if the fees will significantly affect adoption of the standard, but we expect H.265 to be widely used in commercial and enterprise applications regardless.
Alternatives to HEVC include open source codecs, of which Google’s VP9 has gained the most attention. With advantages including royalty-free use and higher accessibility than HEVC with similar efficiency, VP9 may be the preferred codec for niche markets or open source users.
To learn more about why compression is critical for streaming 4K/Ultra HD and other implications of the technology upgrade, download our “Technology Cycles in AV” insight piece, available here.