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HANDICAPPING THE VIDEO CODEC WARS
H.264 is arguably the dominant codec of the moment in terms of AV and IT vendor support. Though plenty of emerging codecs are vying for the top spot, H.264 will have the incumbency advantage for at least the next few years. That makes it a safe choice when buying video conferencing, digital signage and other AV gear today
David Benham, Cisco's director of telepresence technology, says H.264 is the codec that enterprises should ask for in new AV equipment, preferably with the flexibility to support higher profiles, and be at least upgradeable to H.265 High Efficiency Video Coding. He adds that some of the most recent generation of conferencing equipment can support H.264 High Profile and one or more modes of H.264 SVC (Scalable Video Coding).
The Scalable Video Coding (SVC) extension gets its name from the way it delivers a video stream in different layers depending on network quality, available bandwidth, or the quality of the CPU. The codec can "scale" up and add additional layers, producing better resolution and frame rate depending on network quality and resources. That makes it a good fit for applications such as video conferencing, especially when they involve best-effort networks like the Internet and endpoints with big differences in processing power and bandwidth.
"H.264 SVC is getting popular because of Microsoft Lync and Google+ Hangouts," says Eric Yu, product management director at AVer Information Inc. USA. "But Hangout and WebRTC are moving to VP8 and VP9 SVC, and eventually new integrated circuits will support it in hardware.
He adds that H.264 AVC is a must-have for enterprise decision makers for 2014, and so will 264 SVC Temporal if Lync is in their technology planning. "In late 2014 or 2015, H.265 and VP9 SVC hardware solutions will show up with their solution strength demonstrated," he says. "That is when their popularity will be determined."
H.265 is a good fit for 4K video and thus for telepresence systems using that resolution to make the user experience seem even more lifelike. "We believe that H.265 will be adopted by the video conferencing market relatively quickly due to the significant bandwidth saving capabilities it delivers," says Ori Modai, CTO of Radvision, an Avaya company.
H.265 also is known as High Efficiency Video Codec (HEVC), which refers to its ability to achieve the same resolution as H.264 High Profile while using half the bandwidth.
"Enterprises needing to save on recurring bandwidth costs will want to pursue the rollout of H.265/HEVC in their AV equipment," Benham says. "This is why you see mobile video aggressively demonstrating support for HEVC and why video providers [such as Netflix] are starting to stream some of their content in HEVC over the Internet.
But H.265 has a few challenges that limit certain types of adoption in the short term. For example, it's compute-intensive, which makes it an unwieldy match for mobile devices, where battery life is in perpetually short supply
"The main challenge for the adoption of H.265 is the codec's high complexity and the fact that most of the current video conferencing platforms are utilizing hardware-accelerated codecs that are not adaptable for H.265," Modai says. "The availability of such devices tailored for H.265 is expected by 2015."
The Rise of VP Codecs
Vendors don't have to pay a royalty to use VP codecs, which helps make them attractive for consumer applications where every penny of price and percentage of margin are scrutinized. "We believe that VP8 will evolve in the consumer domain," Modai says. "This codec and its successor, VP9, will be the main engine driving the adoption of WebRTC communication and streaming media."
VP8 also gets a boost from Google's support, which includes using it in Chrome. "VP8 is royalty free, and it's embedded in the browser that's becoming the de facto standard," says Ken Davison, CMO and senior vice president of sales at Magor. "Why wouldn't you use it if you could?"
For applications that require scalability, VP9 might be the better long-term choice. "VP8 doesn't have scalability," says Ofer Shapiro, Vidyo CEO and co-founder. "It's frozen, so it won't have it." TPO
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tim Kridel has been covering the Pro-AV industry since 2003 for publications such as AV Technology, InAVate, Pro AV, Sound & Video Contractor, and Telepresence Options as well as InfoComm's Special Reports series. Since 1998, he has also been covering the telecomindustry for a variety of publications and analyst firms. For more information, visit www.TimKridel.com
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