Comparing MPEG-2, H.264, and H.265 Video Codecs at NAB 2014 - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 44 Old 04-23-2014, 04:27 PM - Thread Starter
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One of the biggest issues concerning UHD/4K is how it will be encoded/compressed and what bit rate will be required to convey a high-quality image. As I've written before, everyone at NAB 2014 seems to have settled on H.265 (aka HEVC or High-Efficiency Video Coding) as the codec of choice for UHD/4K. HEVC is said to offer up to 50 percent greater efficiency than H.264 (aka AVC or Advanced Video Coding), which is often used for high-def content, and even greater gains in efficiency over MPEG-2.

 

So I was particularly interested in a presentation called "Bit Rate Requirements for HEVC: Comparing H.265, H.264, and MPEG-2" by John Pallett, Director of Product Marketing for Enterprise Products at Telestream, a company that provides video capture, encoding, transcoding, and network-based delivery. The testing he discussed was based on SD and HD content, not UHD, but the findings should apply similarly.

 

The metric used to gauge the performance of different bitrates was PSNR (peak signal-to-noise ratio), which Pallett acknowledged is not a good indicator of image quality. But it is a very good indicator of differences in how well the original data is preserved at different bit rates. In fact, Telestream used over 1000 different bit rates in its tests, which included various types of program material, with five different encoders—an MPEG-2 encoder from MainConcept at a constant bit rate (CBR); the x264 H.264 encoder in CBR and QP (constant quantization) modes, Medium Profile (8-bit, 4:2:0 color subsampling), with 2-second lookahead; and the x265 H.265 encoder, also in CBR and QP modes, Medium Profile, with 2-second lookahead.

 

For those who are not familiar with QP mode, the encoder maintains constant quantization, which determines how much information is lost, without regard to bit rate—in other words, it uses a variable bit rate with essentially no constraints. By contrast, what is normally called VBR does have constraints on how high it can go. However, QP mode does not take into account motion estimation and other important factors that affect image quality.

 

Here are some of Telestream's findings:

 

In this still image from HD video encoded at 500 Kbps, H.265 clearly retains more detail in the person's skin than H.264. ProRes is a professional codec from Apple used in the intermediate stages of post production; it's shown here for comparison.

 

In this graph, the five codecs are used to encode a 1080p movie at various bit rates, and the average PSNR is measured for each one. As you can see, MPEG-2 drops much faster than the others, while both types of H.264, remain much better at lower bit rates and follow almost identical curves. Both types of H.265 do better still and nearly equal to each other as well.

 

Instead of the average PSNR, this graph looks at the worst PSNR for each bit rate, which arises when you consider only the most difficult frames with lots of complex, fast motion. Notice how MPEG-2 and both types of H.264 fall off very quickly below a certain bit rate, while H.265 drops much more gracefully, which means it can be pushed to lower rates while retaining some semblance of image quality.

 

In these graphs of the average PSNR as a function of bit rate for the three codecs, the orange line represents a news program, red is a movie, and blue is sports. As you might expect, news has the best PSNR at a given bit rate because there's not much motion, while sports performs the worst at low bit rates because of all the fast motion. Interestingly, all three codecs exhibit a similar difference between content with slow and fast motion

 

Pallett acknowledged that the numbers he presented at NAB were already out of date because the quality of H.265 encoding is improving so rapidly. Still, he said that, practically speaking, H.265 currently offers a 20-30 percent improvement in efficiency over H.264, and that benefit should increase as new H.265 encoders are developed. For now, Telestream recommends a bit rate of 14-15 Mbps for UHD using HEVC.

 

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post #2 of 44 Old 04-23-2014, 06:04 PM
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Thank you for this excellent example of what HEVC can do!


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post #3 of 44 Old 04-23-2014, 06:47 PM
 
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Always love to follow advances in compression tech, whether they involve video (i.e. above) or audio (i.e. Opus)!
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post #4 of 44 Old 04-23-2014, 11:56 PM
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I would think 14-15 Mbps for UHD would be the lowest data rate one would want to go for 8 bit, 4:2:0. But I doubt that's the quality anybody would really want, is it? I sure hope not.

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post #5 of 44 Old 04-24-2014, 12:39 AM
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As always appreciate the article Scott wink.gif

Re the ProRes/HEVC and ProRes/H.264 images ... Look at the detail (both color and geometry) in the ProRes images compared to either the HEVC or the H.264. This is why I've often stated that I wish UHD would prioritize improving compression ratio's vs adding a "wider" gamut.

I work with ProRes Rec709 everyday and it looks fantastic compared to Blu-ray (which is the best consumer delivery format we currently have). A wider color gamut (like P3) that's still heavily compressed will not give a better picture than good ol' Rec709 that is much less compressed. From my standpoint, pushing a wider color gamut is marketing hype while creating a less compressed new spec and delivery pipe/format will genuinely improve our HT picture quality.
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post #6 of 44 Old 04-24-2014, 05:37 AM
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So in the first image, that file is HD, not UHD? I'd be interested in seeing the difference between ProRes (I work with it daily) and h.264/265 at 4K resolution.

Either way, compression tech is incredibly boring to most, but it has a greater impact for the largest number of end users of any new tech from NAB. smile.gif
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post #7 of 44 Old 04-24-2014, 06:52 AM
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Pfft, who wants ProRes when you can have UNCOMPRESSED!

 

All joking aside, I agree that achieving better compression ratios is vital to producing a high quality image, given the bandwidth limitations we must deal with.

 

The problem is, it's not sexy.  You can't exactly say "Look at the compression ratio on that!" and expect regular people to get excited like they would a phrase like "4 times the resolution", "3 times the brightness", or "more vibrant and lifelike colors".  The funny thing is, better compression can actually give you many of the same improvements (given a realistic bit rate).  But when you try to explain how it does this to people, they invariably ask you, "well, if it looks that good in ProRes, why not just give it to me that way?"  And when you tell them that it would take 100 discs to store it or that the internet isn't fast enough to stream it, they insist that, instead of improving compression, we need to increase the storage capacity of discs or "make the internet faster".

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So I've been encoding all my 1080p in x264-Q at around 10mbit. Looks like HEVC doesn't bring much of an improvement at that range. Looks like it really just pulls away from H.264-Q at around 3Mbit for 1080p. Though I'm sure it will improve more still. Although I've heard x264 is decently better than a reference H.264 encoder as well.
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post #9 of 44 Old 04-24-2014, 07:22 AM
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Originally Posted by SirMaster View Post

So I've been encoding all my 1080p in x264-Q at around 10mbit. Looks like HEVC doesn't bring much of an improvement at that range. Looks like it really just pulls away from H.264-Q at around 3Mbit for 1080p. Though I'm sure it will improve more still. Although I've heard x264 is decently better than a reference H.264 encoder as well.

I believe x264 = open source implementation of the H.264 ENCODER. It allows for non-stanard encodes. The issue with this is that the decoding part of H.264 may not properly play the x264 encode. The advantage of x264 is you have more flexibility. However, on a x264 vs H.264 on the same encoding standard chosen...I've seen no appreciable difference.


As for H.265, there is no free lunch. In order to employ better compression methods you also need a better decoder that has to do MORE work as well. In short...H.265 = more energy required than H.264. With advances in silicon this will probably be benign (e.g. a wash) but it isn't free. I'm also curious to how much more memory this standard will require.

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Pfft, who wants ProRes when you can have UNCOMPRESSED!

All joking aside, I agree that achieving better compression ratios is vital to producing a high quality image, given the bandwidth limitations we must deal with.

The problem is, it's not sexy.  You can't exactly say "Look at the compression ratio on that!" and expect regular people to get excited like they would a phrase like "4 times the resolution", "3 times the brightness", or "more vibrant and lifelike colors".  The funny thing is, better compression can actually give you many of the same improvements (given a realistic bit rate).  But when you try to explain how it does this to people, they invariably ask you, "well, if it looks that good in ProRes, why not just give it to me that way?"  And when you tell them that it would take 100 discs to store it or that the internet isn't fast enough to stream it, they insist that, instead of improving compression, we need to increase the storage capacity of discs or "make the internet faster".

That's because people out there are not engineers, and their opinions on tech matters such as these should be summarily ignored.

I've even read people on this very forum arguing in favor of uncompressed 1080p, which would have the same banddwidth and storage costs of a MUCH better looking UHD / HDR / High Color stream that used sensible compression. These graphs are important because they show the best bang for the buck at any res is by Hevc, which will benefit everyone, including torrents which, lets face it, 95% of the world uses to watch h.264 encoded shows and movies and every drop of bandwidth savings results in less waste. Less waste also happens to be good on your pocket book (less internet surcharges), less hard drives needed, less electricity, less download time, etc etc. More movies and shows can be stored per drive.

Every bit of compression savings helps a ton. Reducing the bandwidth costs for quality 1080p video, let alone 4K, will have immediate impact on the entire internet. I wonder why Hevc isn't used already, they haven't opened up their tech yet, have they.

If they don't do it, it will be reverse engineered regardless.
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post #11 of 44 Old 04-24-2014, 08:08 AM
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My impression from the graphs is that the greater efficiency of h.265 over h.264 is manifested mostly for low bit-rate and hence low quality images.

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post #12 of 44 Old 04-24-2014, 08:43 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RLBURNSIDE View Post

Every bit of compression savings helps a ton. Reducing the bandwidth costs for quality 1080p video, let alone 4K, will have immediate impact on the entire internet. I wonder why Hevc isn't used already, they haven't opened up their tech yet, have they.

 

I assume the reason why you don't see HEVC encoding being used on 1080p content for consumer use is because most people don't own equipment with HEVC decoding.  There are software decoders available for anyone with a PC, but most people don't use PC's to play movies.  Also, from what I understand the CPU specs required to software decode HEVC are fairly high, meaning even fewer people have PC's that can handle it.

 

The end result is that they are required to provide an H.264 version of 1080p and lower content so that most consumers can use it.  Providing a second HEVC version doesn't end up saving anything in the long run, at least in terms of storage space.  Internet bandwidth usage is another story.

 

Now, with 4K content, that is not the case.  All 2014 4K displays should be able to decode HEVC and 4K is so new that they can afford to provide HEVC encoded 4K content only, without pissing off too many customers.  However, if they come out with H.266 ten years down the road then they will have the same issues with encoding future 4K content in that, as most people would only be able to use H.265 encoded 4K content.

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post #13 of 44 Old 04-24-2014, 08:45 AM
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Originally Posted by Trepidati0n View Post

As for H.265, there is no free lunch. In order to employ better compression methods you also need a better decoder that has to do MORE work as well. In short...H.265 = more energy required than H.264. With advances in silicon this will probably be benign (e.g. a wash) but it isn't free.

Agreed. Above 3Mb/s the advantage of HEVC seems minimal. But what is the difference in required processing power - read heat generation & battery use?

If content is being delivered in the 200Kb/s-1Mb/s range then the quality vs power trade-off seems reasonable. At high bit rates, it doesn't seem worth it.

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From my standpoint, pushing a wider color gamut is marketing hype while creating a less compressed new spec and delivery pipe/format will genuinely improve our HT picture quality.
I think that would be very content dependent. With material that takes advantage of deeper colors (like they love to show at trade shows) the difference would be more noticeable than preservation of finer details. On typical video a wider gamut would probably not be that perceptible.


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Above 3Mb/s the advantage of HEVC seems minimal. But what is the difference in required processing power - read heat generation & battery use?.
Perhaps not much when using hardware decoding.


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post #16 of 44 Old 04-24-2014, 10:57 AM - Thread Starter
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So in the first image, that file is HD, not UHD? I'd be interested in seeing the difference between ProRes (I work with it daily) and h.264/265 at 4K resolution.

Either way, compression tech is incredibly boring to most, but it has a greater impact for the largest number of end users of any new tech from NAB. smile.gif


Yes, it's HD, not UHD. I completely agree with your second statement here, which is why I wanted to attend this presentation and write about it.


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post #17 of 44 Old 04-24-2014, 04:00 PM
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Even with all the benefits of improved CODECs such as HEVC, 4K / UHD content will require moving a lot of bits through media distribution channels. If the average BluRay movie consumes 20-40 GB, can we assume that the same movie in 4K / UHD will require 60-100 GB? Will quad layer disks provide sufficient capacity to allow the introduction of High Dynamic Range content as part of the 4K / UHD standard? And what about reduced color sub-sampling?

I hope that the introduction of 4K / UHD will focus more on visible improvements such as HDR than simply touting more pixels.

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post #18 of 44 Old 04-24-2014, 04:28 PM
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This should be nice as streaming is rammed down our throats and folks like me only have about 5.5mbps down!

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Originally Posted by TVOD View Post

I'm not sure how it's assumed current UHD displays would have h.265 decoding. Aside from OTA, decoding is usually done by an external device. ATSC 3.0 is still in an experimental stage. Hardware decoding allows inexpensive outboard devices. HEVC should be in mobile devices before too long. When the next step of encoding is standardized upgrading may be simpler than it is now.

The 2014 Sony and Samsung 4K UHD sets certainly do. I think Samsung's 2013 model do too. The 2013 Sony's do not. To be able to decode HEVC encoded content with them (such as Netflix's House of Cards), you need one of Sony's new 4K media players. Either the FMP-X5 (which only streams as it has no internal storage) or the FMP-X10 (which can stream or download to it's internal 1 TB drive). I believe the other manufacturers are also including HEVC decodes in their 4K sets. Without them, the TV's built-in 4K streaming apps wouldn't be worth as much.
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post #20 of 44 Old 04-24-2014, 05:44 PM
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The 2014 Sony and Samsung 4K UHD sets certainly do.
I checked that and had deleted the post, but you were too quick for me! I think it was only last year that HEVC was shown at trade shows as a demo, now it's already being delivered in consumer products.


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post #21 of 44 Old 04-24-2014, 05:54 PM
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Originally Posted by HockeyoAJB View Post

Pfft, who wants ProRes when you can have UNCOMPRESSED!
Is it really too much to ask for uncompressed 4K (or 8K for that matter) 4:4:4 rec 2020 HDR internet streams? After all, it is almost May.


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^Yes, yes it is. If you want to clamor for anything, clamor for lossless. It involves ridiculous compression ratios but not as ridiculous as uncompressed.
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Asking for completely raw, uncompressed video is like leaving your shower and lights on when you go to work.

Nobody will buy, watch, or store raw uncompressed video, even lossless compressed, it is simply too wasteful and for the same amount of space on your disc, or download bandwidth if streaming, you can get a higher overall quality image by using a more moderate compression ratio and greater resolution / bit depth / frame rate. And that's exactly what has happened, is happening, and will continue to happen, as time goes on. Maybe bitrates will go higher, codecs will get better still, but no one will ever give up compression, it's like taking your bike to work for 2 hours each way when commuting by train or car takes 15 minutes.

Nature, as well as engineers, abhors inefficiency. And that's why we use compression (and will continue to do so). I think it's stupid to even run uncompressed audio on Blurays, use lossless if you must but still use compression. Some of the top engineers I've read in interviews on this very website need to get their heads examined when they make spurious claims such as we need uncompressed audio. No, we don't. Good encoders, yes. Good enough bitrates so that you can't see or hear artifacts in double blind tests, yes. More than that, no, not really. Put those bits to use where they'd count : more bit depth, dynamic range, more resolution, and my personal pet peeve, more frame rate. 24p sucks.
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Yeah, that's what all those engineers say - it can't be done. Always going to use compression. I'll bet that if Steve Jobs were still around he'd be able to convince those engineers it was not only possible, but necessary. Besides, from what I've read about compression, it's somehow throwing away bits. Isn't it more wasteful to just keep throwing them away?


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Perhaps not much when using hardware decoding.

 

Yeah, once it's built into an ASIC it shouldn't be significant.


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Yeah, that's what all those engineers say - it can't be done. Always going to use compression. I'll bet that if Steve Jobs were still around he'd be able to convince those engineers it was not only possible, but necessary. Besides, from what I've read about compression, it's somehow throwing away bits. Isn't it more wasteful to just keep throwing them away?

You'd make an awesome engineer. Maybe you should start a bit recycling program...biggrin.gif

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Ugh, we've been down this road before. Data that is outside the range of human vision and hearing should absolutely be thrown away at a minimum. Forcing that unused data down a pipe (or onto a disc) is the height of inefficiency.
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post #28 of 44 Old 04-25-2014, 11:28 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RLBURNSIDE View Post

Nobody will buy, watch, or store raw uncompressed video, even lossless compressed
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Maybe you should start a bit recycling program...biggrin.gif
I googled for this lossless thing and, from what I've read, it still throws out bits but somehow keeps everything. My guess is they are recycling the bits. This upcoming one from Silicon Valley called Pied Piper looks like it will change everything! On their website they say:

"Pied Piper is a multi-platform technology based on a proprietary universal compression algorithm that has consistently fielded high Weisman Scores™ that are not merely competitive, but approach the theoretical limit of lossless compression." "But it is safe to say, we intend to deploy an integrated, multi-platform functionality of all conceivable applications of the algorithm, that we hope will make the world a better place through compression services across diversified market segments."

No more wasted bits from MPEG-2, H.264 and H.265 which, as someone explained to me, would go into something called a "bit bucket".
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Forcing that unused data down a pipe (or onto a disc) is the height of inefficiency.
I agree but I think that bucket needs to emptied somewhere, so a pipe of some kind makes sense.


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post #29 of 44 Old 04-25-2014, 12:12 PM
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Originally Posted by TVOD View Post


I googled for this lossless thing and, from what I've read, it still throws out bits but somehow keeps everything. My guess is they are recycling the bits. This upcoming one from Silicon Valley called Pied Piper looks like it will change everything! On their website they say:

"Pied Piper is a multi-platform technology based on a proprietary universal compression algorithm that has consistently fielded high Weisman Scores™ that are not merely competitive, but approach the theoretical limit of lossless compression." "But it is safe to say, we intend to deploy an integrated, multi-platform functionality of all conceivable applications of the algorithm, that we hope will make the world a better place through compression services across diversified market segments."

No more wasted bits from MPEG-2, H.264 and H.265 which, as someone explained to me, would go into something called a "bit bucket".
I agree but I think that bucket needs to emptied somewhere, so a pipe of some kind makes sense.

I find it hilarious that several folks haven't caught on that you are being facetious. Well, I've had my deep belly laugh of the day! By the way, Silicon Valley is an awesome show!
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post #30 of 44 Old 04-25-2014, 12:27 PM
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It is a very good show.

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