4K is the next big thing in TVs, and 4K videos are starting to pop up everywhere. But 4K video takes up a ton of space, which makes it hard to download and stream in the best quality possible. Thankfully, one technology is changing that, and it’s known as High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC), or H.265.
It’s taking a while for this new technology to become ubiquitous, but it’s happening—4K UHD Blu-rays use HEVC, VLC 3.0 makes HEVC and 4K videos more watchable on your PC, and the iPhone can even saved recorded video in HEVC to save storage space. But how does it work, and why is it so important for 4K video?
The Current Standard: AVC/H.264
When you watch a Blu-ray disc, a YouTube video, or a movie from iTunes, it isn’t identical to the original raw video that comes out of the editing room. In order to fit that movie on a Blu-ray disc—or make it small enough to comfortably download from the web—the movie has to be compressed.
Advanced Video Coding, also known as AVC or H.264, is the best standard for video compression in widespread use, and there are a few different methods it uses to try to reduce the file size of your video…
…This isn’t a problem for standalone playback devices—4K Blu-ray players, including the one in the Xbox One, are all built with HEVC in mind. But when it comes to playing HEVC videos on your PC, things get tougher. Your computer will need one of the following pieces of hardware in order to hardware decode HEVC video:
- Intel 6th generation “Skylake” or newer CPUs
- AMD 6th generation “Carizzo” or newer APUs
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 950, 960, or newer graphics cards
- AMD Radeon R9 Fury, R9 Fury X, R9 Nano, or newer graphics cards
You will also need to use an operating system and video player that supports not just HEVC video, but HEVC hardware decoding—and this is a bit spotty at the moment. Many players are still adding support for HEVC hardware decoding, and in some cases it may only work with certain chips from the list above. At the time of this writing, VLC 3.0, Kodi17, and Plex Media Server 1.10 all support some form of HEVC hardware decoding, at least for certain cards. You may have to enable hardware acceleration in your player of choice for it to work properly, though.
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