Tech News: ITU agrees new HEVC standard

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  • New standard would enable the current Freeview service to be transmitted on half as many multiplexes and frequencies or allow twice as many HD channels on a multiplex. But everyone would need new receivers.

The United Nations agency for information and communication technology, the ITU, has formally approved the latest video standard which would enable broadcasters to use half as much bandwidth for the same number of services, creating either more room for broadcast and internet services or more capacity on overcrowded networks.

The new standard, known as HEVC (High Efficiency Video Coding) or H.265 will need only half the bit rate of its predecessor, MPEG 4, which is used as the video standard for terrestrial and satellite services in many countries. MPEG 4 is used with the Freeview HD DVB-T2 service in the UK and the Saorview DVB-T service in the Irish Republic.

Its implementation - at least in the UK - could be hampered by the fact that the new technology would render existing Freeview and Freeview HD receivers obsolete. The HEVC video codec would theoretically allow all currently transmitted services on Freeview to easily fit on three, rather than six multiplexes - with some room to spare - clearing more of the UHF TV frequency band that could be used for mobile internet services in the next 10-20 years. Alternatively, one HD multiplex could carry twice as many HD channels- up to 10 rather than the maximum of 5 services that can broadcast simultaneously on the current Freeview HD multiplex.

Worldwide, the HEVC standard could be used to introduced 4K Ultra HD services to consumers without taking up much extra spectrum. The first TV and electronics manufacturers have already announced the first devices and electronic chips that will be compatible with the new standard.

Terrestrial broadcast standards from 1998 to the future...
DVB-T using the video codec MPEG2 was the original standard used by digital terrestrial television. As early adopters of digital terrestrial television, the UK started off using this standard, but has since 2009 been introducing the newer DVB-T2 standard together with the MPEG4 codec for the Freeview HD service.


Broadcast standard
Video Codec
Used by
DVB-T
MPEG2
Freeview (standard definition/SD)
MPEG4
Saorview (Ireland) and some French
TNT HD services
DVB-T2

MPEG4
Freeview HD,
TG4, RTÉ1,2 from Northern Ireland transmitters
DVB-T2
HEVC
Potential future service needing half
of the bitrate used by MPEG4 services

The above table shows the different technical standards. Each row on the table represents a standard. Receivers made for that standard are also backward compatible to the standards listed on rows above it on the table, but not forward compatible to the standards listed below it. So for example, receivers able to decode DVB-T2 MPEG4 would be backward compatible to standards listed above it in the table, but not forward compatible to DVB-T2 HEVC, listed below it on the table. 
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