DoCoMo decodes new video standard without new hardware

The HEVC standard could help operators reduce load and consumers reduce download times and cost

Consumers might not have to upgrade their phones to take advantage of a new video compression system that can send high-definition images much more efficiently than today's most popular formats.

The new technology, called H.265 HEVC (high efficiency video encoding) is a successor to the H.264 AVC system that is today widely used for online video.

It was recently standardized and network operators are looking to push adoption because it halves the amount of data required to send a high-definition image. That will also help consumers, because transmitting less data means faster downloads and lower costs.

Typically, a new video compression standard would require new hardware because of the extra work a processor needs to do to encode and decode the image, but with H.265 HEVC that's not necessarily so, said Frank Bossen, a research fellow at DoCoMo Innovations, a Silicon Valley-based research lab owned by the Japanese cellular carrier.

"We started implementing a software decoder, trying to understand how much processing power would actually be required to implement this new specification," he said. "When we started that work we weren't quite sure where it would land, but it turns out on the decoder side this new specification doesn't really require that much more processing power than H.264."

At this week's Mobile World Congress expo in Barcelona, NTT DoCoMo is demonstrating the decoding of H.265 HEVC video using a cell phone and tablet that are already available in Japan: a Sharp Aquos Phone and NEC Medias tablet.

(Watch video of the demonstration on YouTube.)

In the demonstration, both played the recorded video flawlessly.

On the encoding side, it's a different matter, said Bossen. That does require more powerful equipment, but that's an investment consumers won't need to make unless they want to record video using the new standard.

Earlier this month, NTT DoCoMo said it expects to launch its first phones that come with built-in support for H.265 HEVC later this year.

Martyn Williams covers mobile telecoms, Silicon Valley and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is martyn_williams@idg.com

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