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January 24, 2014

'Ultra HD' TVs to Use New Video Formats With Higher Quality and Lower File Sizes

The buzz about new 4K Ultra HD TVs has wowed audiences with crystal-clear images at amazing resolutions, displaying up to 8.3 million pixels simultaneously on a curved screen. However, many are worried that this could be a step too far, since the price of a brand new 4k Ultra HD TVs is staggering to most consumers, and the size of the necessary files for this level of quality are too large to effectively stream video under most Internet configurations. These TVs were designed with the cloud in mind, but current video codecs like HDMI can't quite seem to keep up.

However, two upcoming video codecs seem to hold an answer to this question. H.265 and VP9 formats support Ultra HD formats, and are heralded as the future of cloud-based television and video. Currently, the two formats are competing for dominance in the Ultra HD market, pitched in a battle similar to Blu-ray vs. HD DVD or the VHS vs. Betamax struggles of old. The new formats are described as High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC).

Both formats work in a surprisingly simple and similar manner. Instead of transmitting all 8.3 million pixels that the television is able to display, they instead search for patterns of detail in the display, and distribute different-sized pixels across the screen according to where they are needed. For large swaths of single colors like skies, floors and darkness, these codecs use very large singular pixels to cover up large chunks of space, while more detailed portions of the image like faces and textures are composed of the smaller pixels. The result is that fewer pixels overall are transmitted, and the TV is able to reconstruct the less detailed portions into a format where the lower detail is unnoticeable.

H.265 is a joint development between the Video Coding Experts Group (VCEG) and the Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG), and was first approved in April of 2013. On the other hand, VP9 was developed by Google, and has support from several major players like Sony, LG, Samsung, Panasonic, Nvidia, Mozilla and more. Currently, it appears that H.265 offers a slightly higher image quality, while VP9 has more reliable streaming. In either case, it will still be a while before HEVC reaches the homes of most consumers, so the battle is not over yet.

Edited by Rachel Ramsey
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