Apple has always had a rollercoaster relationship with the HEVC standard. When HEVC was being developed, Apple actively participated in the process. The standard was finalized in January 2013, and Apple announced it would support HEVC in November 2014. This commitment was retracted a few months later based on royalty conditions that Apple would not accept.
Fast-forward to today. On June 5, 2017, at the WWDC conference, Apple declared that:
- HEVC will be supported on iOS11, with the first application being the video camera.
- Mac OS High Sierra will support HEVC.
- Apple TV will support Amazon. We can assume this means in UHD, which implies HEVC support.
Why is this news important for our industry?
Mobile devices are driving a significant amount of video traffic. Samsung already supports HEVC in the Galaxy S6, S7 and S8. Adding Apple to the mix means that the No. 1 and No. 2 most popular smartphones will now support HEVC, signifying a very strong market trend.
On the browser side, until now, only Microsoft Explorer 10 offered support for HEVC (up to UHD with proper hardware). Adding Safari brings a second major ecosystem to HEVC. Although Google Chrome is dominating the computer browser space, those are the two native browsers that run on all PC and Mac machines, so it has a 100 percent reach on those platforms.
On the IP STB side, Roku 4, Amazon Fire TV (2015) and the second-generation Fire TV Stick, as well as Xbox One support HEVC. Given Apple’s recent announcement, the new Apple TV should be capable of provisioning Amazon UHD-HDR services, which are delivered via HEVC Main 10.
For service providers, device support of HEVC has always been a problem. Many times I have heard, “If Apple does not support it, I am not going to go there.” Apple backing HEVC opens up doors to delivering video to smartphone, Mac and Apple TV users. Frost & Sullivan estimates that there are 2 billion HEVC-enabled devices in the field — way more than any contender codecs, such as VP9 or the AV1 codec current being developed by the Alliance for Open Media.
How can Harmonic help you to launch an HEVC service? All of our software-based encoders, including the Electra™ X and Electra VS solutions, are easily upgradable to HEVC. Harmonic pioneered HEVC encoding support and has deep experience in HEVC deployments, powering two of the first HEVC broadcast and OTT services in 2015 with DISH HD Asia and Kartina TV.
If you want to know more about the future of compression, check out my NAB 2017 paper, “New Compression Techniques for Next-Generation Video.” We’re also working on a white paper on the subject, and you will discover that HEVC is at the center of it. Stay tuned…
– Thierry Fautier, Vice President of Video Strategy at Harmonic and President of the Ultra HD Forum