Apple & Teradek to support H.265, but can we use it yet?

At NAB Teradek announced H.265 support. At WWDC, Apple did the same. Let’s explore what this means, short and long term.

We all want to be able to use H.265 instead of the “old fashioned” H.264 to get higher efficient encoding and compression: the same quality at a lower size or bandwidth, or higher quality/resolution at the same size or bandwidth as before. First, at NAB in April 2017, Teradek announced new support for H.265 in some of its streaming hardware devices, and with its own online Core transcoding middleware service. Next, at WWDC, Apple announced native H.265 support in both the upcoming palindromic version 11 of iOS, and in macOS High Sierra, the upcoming replacement for Sierra 10.12.x. Since I haven’t seen such H.265 announcements from popular CDNs, I asked Teradek three key questions. Ahead you will see my inquiry, their answers and my conclusions.

What is Core?

Core is Teradek’s cloud service that middleware transcoding service. As required, Core converts among HEVC/H.265/H.264 for multiple CDNs including Facebook Live, Livestream, USTREAM, YouTube Live, WOWZA or custom RTMP.

My three questions to Teradek

  1. Other than your own Core, has any CDN itself already announced direct support for H.265 input, for those users who are content to webcast live using a single CDN? If so which CDNs have announced it, with what ETAs?
  2. Will any Teradek products delivered before the NAB 2017 announcement (i.e. the Clip or VidiU) be upgradable via firmware to H.265? If so, will that be free or paid? If paid, how much will the firmware upgrades cost? If not, are there any trade-in options?
  3. I can’t quite tell whether VidiU or VidiU Pro will be available with H.265 at some point. Will they?

Response from Teradek

  1. You’re correct that Core is our own cloud service that transcodes, at this time, HEVC/H.265/H.264. And the main reason is because most if not all CDNs at this time are not supporting H.265/HEVC. There is however still a major benefit to having an H.265 encoder at the front end of your pipe, especially for mobile live streams where bandwidth is limited, you’ll be able to get a high quality out at about half the bandwidth requirements of H.264. From my understanding, no mainstream CDN has announced direct ingest of an H.265 stream. In fact, I understand that there is a debate as to which compression is to be supported, whether it’s H.265 or VP9. If VP9 does find itself being more popular, Core could be setup to handle a transcode to this codec. So at this time, I don’t see any solid ETAs on this.
  2. At this time, no Teradek products will be able to be upgraded to H.265 via firmware. That’s because we put in dedicated hardware chips that perform the transcode in order to maintain high efficiency and low power consumption. Some of our software streaming programs like Live:Air may see upgrades in the future, but it really depends on when the hardware of devices like iPads or computers can really handle it.
  3. At this time, we do not have an H.265 version of our VidiU family. That’s not to say we won’t, it’s really just a matter of how our industry moves in regards to the workflows it will incorporate.

My conclusions

  1. As Teradek states, there are indeed advantages to using H.265 before the popular CDNs support it directly, (a) to be able to broadcast live with a poorer upload connection, especially in remotes, and (b) to broadcast at a notch higher (i.e. hopefully H.265 at least 720p) when your upload speed wouldn’t have allowed it with the “old fashioned” H.264.
  2. Given that Teradek and Apple will both be supporting H.265 by the end of 2017, there will be much more pressure from popular CDNs to support it to.
  3. Another justification of using Core is to be able to simulcast on multiple CDNs without needing multiple upload speed. You broadcast to Core with your largest resolution at H.265, and let Core feed each CDN with its best códec and best supported resolution, as each one gradually improves.

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FTC disclosure

Neither Teradek/Core nor Apple is specifically paying Allan Tépper or TecnoTur LLC to write this article. Some of the other manufacturers listed above have contracted Tépper and/or TecnoTur LLC to carry out consulting and/or translations/localizations/transcreations. Many of the manufacturers listed above have sent Allan Tépper review units. So far, none of the manufacturers listed above is/are sponsors of the TecnoTur programs, although they are welcome to do so, and some are, may be (or may have been) sponsors of ProVideo Coalition magazine. Some links to third parties listed in this article and/or on this web page may indirectly benefit TecnoTur LLC via affiliate programs. Allan Tépper’s opinions are his own.

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Born in Connecticut, United States, Allan Tépper is an award-winning broadcaster & podcaster, bilingual consultant, multi-title author, tech journalist, translator, and language activist who has been working with professional video since the eighties. Since 1994,…