HEVC Advance’s royalty removal is a step in the right direction. Here’s why.

On March 13, HEVC Advance announced that it has removed its license fees for subscription, title-by-title encoding and distribution for all non-physical media using the Emmy Award winning HEVC video compression standard.

This essentially means that cable, on-air broadcast and satellite streaming will no longer be subject to royalty fees previously sought by HEVC Advance. According to HEVC Advance, this move is part of an effort to accelerate the adoption of HEVC compression especially as 4K resolution content become more and more ubiquitous in streaming-video markets.

Additionally, HEVC Advance also announced it has expanded its discount program for Region 1 (which includes North America, Europe, Middle-east and A-Pac excluding emerging markets like India & China) Lower-Priced Connected Home and Other Devices Category to include units costing up to $80. It also consolidated and reduced it’s enterprise cap to $40M and further expanded it’s Trademark Program discounts to include physical media. This makes HEVC easier to implement in a greater number of devices.

This is, however, not the first move of its kind. Back in 2016, HEVC Advance waived fees on software applications like browsers and media players that implement HEVC encoding and decoding only using a general purpose CPU and no hardware acceleration. Essentially, this move was to drive the market for HEVC by allowing free software implementations on hardware that lacked HEVC acceleration functions but equipped with the horsepower needed to handle HEVC compression in software. Fast forward a year, in October 2017, HEVC Advance again announced discounted royalty rates specifically to increase adoption of HEVC among lower-priced devices

Earlier, there was another major shift in 2017 when Apple, at its Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC17), announced that it would support HEVC in both its computer and smartphone operating systems. This put HEVC at the forefront over other parallel open source compression formats, as the most prominent phone-maker in the world and one of the most popular and well-known computer-makers worldwide was supporting HEVC. This was definitely music to the ears of the video community including companies like NGCodec that had invested heavily in HEVC.  

While Apple’s move and it’s adoption of HEVC in it’s iPhones, iPads and Macs showed a great deal of promise, the adoption rate of HEVC for streaming content still suffered primarily due to the royalty issues that had plagued it for years coupled with the huge market share of royalty-free VP9 codec in browsers and Android smartphones. NGCodec has also publicly stated that both VP9 and HEVC may be required because the Premium segment lead by Apple is HEVC only and Mass market led by Google Android is VP9 Only.Apple has since joined AOM, fueling uncertainties and speculations about the future of MPEG video codecs for streaming applications. Recently, MPEG’s founding chairman Leonard Chiariglione also wrote a critical blog post titled 'A crisis, the causes and a solution' that portrayed a rather bleak future for MPEG Video standards. In his article, it is shown that while there are indeed concerns about the future of video compression technology, there are also solutions available.

HEVC Advance’s latest move is a good step in the right direction towards helping broadcasters and internet video encoding providers provide HEVC as part of their codec portfolio and leverage it’s superior compression gains over the earlier dominant H.264 standard. Broadcasters can now use HEVC’s best-in-class compression royalty-free for their ingest and contribution workflows either on-prem or in the cloud. This will enable providers to expand their offerings to higher resolutions like 4K and also offer higher resolutions for a given bit rate or reduce bandwidth consumption for existing resolutions. MSOs can now effectively use HEVC encoding for distribution over cable, satellite or OTT thereby providing a far richer video experience for consumers.

It should be noted however that HEVC has three patent pools (the other two being MPEG LA and Velos Media) and a host of other patent holders who're not a part of neither pool and it remains to be seen how the other two patent pools respond to this move. HEVC Advance's announcement comes right in time as the industry gears up for the annual NAB show next month in Las Vegas.