The announcement of the Huawei P10 and P10 Plus was a painfully long event. It seemed to go on and on about “having the best technologies” without really getting into the details of what they were or how they worked. The partnership with Pantone yielded phones with some really interesting colours, however the most significant announcement was the fact that the H.265 codec is used to compress the 4K footage being shot by the P10 and P10 Plus. If you don’t think this is a big deal, you should and we’re going to explain why.
What is H.265?
We’re all familiar with the H.264 codec, it’s the “set of rules” that are used to compress video and audio into a movie file. Unfortunately, these video files are fairly large in size, which is why when you shoot 4K video on your phone, the storage disappears faster than food at a buffet. The H.264 codec was a great way to get full-HD quality videos into manageable sizes, but it just can’t handle 4K without eating up tons of storage space. This is where H.265 steps in. The H.265 codec offers twice the compression of H.264 without loss in visual fidelity, or it can offer twice the visual fidelity with the same filesize as an H.264 video.
The Challenges with H.265
If H.265 is so efficient in compressing video, why did they not feature in our phones earlier? The primary challenge with the H.265 codec is the fact that encoding an H.265 file is very processor intensive. The developers of the codec state that at one point, the H.265 codec required almost 300% more processing power than the H.264 codec. As the codec blossomed, the processing power requirements have come down significantly, it still remains to be seen whether the mobile platform is ready for H.265 codec. We do believe that Huawei would not implement the technology if it wasn’t ready, but we remain skeptical with regards to battery drain, CPU load and heat generation.
Why you should Care
Say you shoot a 5 minute long 4K video on your smartphone and the filesize is 800MB. If your phone uses the H.265 codec, this file could be reduced to roughly 400MB in size, while maintaining the same visual quality, OR it could pack twice the bit-rate, meaning better detail, better colours and better audio (if your camera sensor can pick it up) into the same 800MB sized file. While consumers may not care much for the latter, who wouldn’t like their videos to be smaller in size without compromising on quality? Additionally, this also means that people may not necessarily need to switch to phones with higher internal storage, especially those who find themselves running out of space because of too many videos.
While Huawei focused multiple minutes into explaining their choices for clour and the benefits of a Leica partnership, the H.265 compression got barely any stage-time. Many of us are particular about what colour our phones will be or the kind of cameras they sport, but seldom do we consider the importance of the algorithms behind the camera. The H.265 codec is a powerful addition to Huawei’s lineup, one that will greatly benefit consumers.
This along with the fact that HEVC Advance, an independent licensing administrator announced last year that they will be doing away with licensing fee for those mobile devices where the HEVC encoding or decoding is fully executed in software on a general purpose CPU. Essentially, device manufacturers get to employ the H.265 codec in their portable devices without having to pay a licensing fee as long as the use of the codec falls within certain, rather generous, purview. This is a great move by Huawei for consumers and you should be glad someone did this. We can now only hope that more smartphone manufacturers adopt H.265 encoding for videos shot on smartphone cameras so that more people shoot and create 4K content.