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Comparing H.264 vs H.265 vs H.266: Technical Specifications

Comparing H.264 vs H.265 vs H.266 Technical Specifications

In this article, we are comparing the H.264 vs H.265 vs H.266 video encoding standards. In the ever-evolving world of video technology, keeping up with the latest compression standards can be a challenge.

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As content creators strive for higher resolutions, sharper visuals, and lower bandwidth requirements, choosing the right codec becomes increasingly crucial. This blog delves into a comparative analysis of three prominent video codecs: H.264, H.265, and H.266 (VVC).

We’ll explore their key features, compression efficiency, device compatibility, and suitability for various use cases, empowering you to make informed decisions for your video encoding needs.

Comparing H.264 vs H.265 vs H.266: Table

FeatureH.264 (AVC)H.265 (HEVC)H.266 (VVC)
Release DateMay 2003April 2013July 2020
Technical StandardITU-T H.264ITU-T H.265ITU-T H.338
Compression EfficiencyBaselineUp to 50% improvement over H.264Up to 50% improvement over H.265
Supported ResolutionsUp to 1080p (limited by profile)Up to 8K UHDUp to 8K UHD and beyond
Color Representation8-bit primarily8 & 10-bit supported10 & 12-bit supported
HDR SupportNoHDR10 supportedHDR10 & HDR10+ supported
Encoding UnitMacroblock (16×16 pixels)Coding Tree Units (CTUs, various sizes)Coding Units (CUs, various sizes)
Intra Prediction16×16 luma, 8×8 chromaUp to 64×64 luma, 32×32 chromaUp to 128×128 luma, 64×64 chroma
Inter PredictionUp to 16×16 motion estimationUp to 64×64 motion estimationUp to 64×64 motion estimation with multi-reference frames
TransformInteger Discrete Cosine Transform (IDCT)Integer Cosine Transform (ICT), Discrete Sine Transform (DST)Block-based Switched DCT (BD-DCT), Wavelet Transform
Entropy CodingContext-Adaptive Binary Arithmetic Coding (CABAC)CABAC and Context-Adaptive Variable Length Coding (CAVLC)CABAC and Offline Entropy Coder (OEC)
ComplexityLowModerateHigh
Device CompatibilityWidespreadGrowingLimited
Licensing FeesRequiredRequiredMay vary depending on implementation
Typical Use CasesStandard-definition video, web streamingStreaming, Blu-ray, broadcastHigh-quality streaming, 4K/8K content, VR/AR, 360° video

Footnotes:

Minute Details:

  • Encoding units: H.264 uses fixed macroblocks, while H.265 and H.266 use more flexible CTUs and CUs, respectively. This allows for better adaptation to specific content and reduces redundant information.
  • Prediction: H.266 introduces multi-reference frame prediction, utilizing several previous frames for more accurate motion estimation, leading to higher compression efficiency.
  • Transform: H.266 employs BD-DCT and Wavelet Transform for more efficient representation of spatial and temporal information, especially suited for high-resolution content.
  • Entropy coding: OEC in H.266 further optimizes bitstream reduction compared to CABAC and CAVLC in H.265 and H.264.
  • Complexity: H.266’s advanced techniques increase encoding and decoding complexity, requiring more powerful hardware than previous codecs.
  • Additional features: H.266 introduces features like Scene Detection and Parallel Processing capabilities, improving encoding efficiency and scalability.

It’s important to choose the right codec based on your specific needs, considering factors like:

  • Desired compression efficiency: H.266 offers the highest compression but at the cost of complexity.
  • Supported features: HDR, high resolutions, and specific functionalities might be crucial for certain applications.
  • Device compatibility: Ensure your target audience or platform can decode the chosen codec.
  • Processing power and hardware limitations: Complex codecs like H.266 might require specialized hardware for smooth playback.
  • Licensing requirements and costs: Consider any licensing fees associated with each codec.

The Genesis: H.264 (AVC)

Introduced in May 2003, H.264 became the bedrock of modern video compression, setting a new benchmark for efficiency and quality.

With its support for resolutions up to 1080p (limited by profile) and primary color representation in 8-bit, H.264 marked a significant step forward from its predecessors. Its adoption of Macroblocks and Context-Adaptive Binary Arithmetic Coding (CABAC) for encoding, alongside a modest complexity, ensured widespread device compatibility.

This standard became the de facto choice for standard-definition video and web streaming, heralded for its balance of quality, efficiency, and licensing costs.

The Evolution: H.265 (HEVC)

Building on the success of H.264, H.265 (released in April 2013) aimed to double the compression efficiency, offering up to a 50% improvement over its predecessor.

This leap was achieved by supporting higher resolutions up to 8K UHD and enhancing color representation with 8 & 10-bit support. Additionally, H.265 introduced Coding Tree Units (CTUs), a more advanced encoding unit that allowed for greater compression without sacrificing quality.

With added support for HDR10, H.265 was positioned as the go-to standard for streaming, Blu-ray, and broadcast applications. Despite its moderate complexity and growing device compatibility, the required licensing fees remained a point of consideration for adopters.

The Future: H.266 (VVC)

The latest standard, H.266 (VVC), unveiled in July 2020, represents the cutting edge of video compression technology. It promises up to a 50% improvement in compression efficiency over H.265, pushing supported resolutions to 8K UHD and beyond.

H.266 brings advancements in color representation (10 & 12-bit) and HDR support (HDR10 & HDR10+), addressing the industry’s push towards ultra-high-definition content. With its introduction of Coding Units (CUs) and innovative transforms like the Block-based Switched DCT and Wavelet Transform, H.266 aims at unparalleled efficiency and quality.

However, its high complexity and initially limited device compatibility present challenges for widespread adoption. Licensing fees for H.266 may vary, reflecting its advanced technology and potential impact on high-quality streaming, 4K/8K content, VR/AR, and 360° video applications.

Conclusion

The journey from H.264 to H.266 is a testament to the relentless pursuit of excellence in video compression technology.

Each standard has set a new benchmark for the next, driving the industry forward towards higher quality, more efficient video content delivery.

As we embrace H.266 and beyond, the potential for innovation in video technology seems boundless, promising an ever-richer visual experience in the digital world. As these standards evolve, so too does our ability to share, enjoy, and immerse ourselves in video content across a multitude of platforms and devices.

The future of video compression is bright, and H.264, H.265, and H.266 are its luminous milestones.

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