Linked by Thom Holwerda on Sat 5th Nov 2016 22:29 UTC
Multimedia, AV

H.264 is a video compression codec standard. It is ubiquitous - internet video, Blu-ray, phones, security cameras, drones, everything. Everything uses H.264 now.

H.264 is a remarkable piece of technology. It is the result of 30+ years of work with one single goal: To reduce the bandwidth required for transmission of full-motion video.

Technically, it is very interesting. This post will give insight into some of the details at a high level - I hope to not bore you too much with the intricacies. Also note that many of the concepts explained here apply to video compression in general, and not just H.264.

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That's all great, but you have to pay...
by number9 on Sun 6th Nov 2016 01:08 UTC
number9
Member since:
2005-10-25

I had a fellow Ph.D. student working on a hardware codec that got rid of one of the "pay to play" portions of the H.264 codec. Google was highly interested in it (back in 2013). Odd that it is so ubiquitous, even though they offer free use to end users... the provider has to pay, as it is patented. From Wiki:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H.264/MPEG-4_AVC


"H.264 is protected by patents owned by various parties. A license covering most (but not all) patents essential to H.264 is administered by patent pool MPEG LA.[2] Commercial use of patented H.264 technologies requires the payment of royalties to MPEG LA and other patent owners. MPEG LA has allowed the free use of H.264 technologies for streaming internet video that is free to end users, and Cisco Systems pays royalties to MPEG LA on behalf of the users of binaries for its open source H.264 encoder."

Reply Score: 2

kurkosdr Member since:
2011-04-11

I had a fellow Ph.D. student working on a hardware codec that got rid of one of the "pay to play" portions of the H.264 codec. Google was highly interested in it (back in 2013). Odd that it is so ubiquitous, even though they offer free use to end users... the provider has to pay, as it is patented. From Wiki:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H.264/MPEG-4_AVC

People have to pay for the patented codec because nobody has managed to make a true rival. On2 made some codecs which were essentially H.264 while avoiding the H.264 patents, and the results when compared with x264 (considered the best H.264 encoder) for the same amount of compression time were ridiculous. Of course, Google rigged the tests and used a mode in vpxenc which will take hours to encode a video (cpu-used=0) and made some good-looking numbers, but they were just that: good-looking numbers.

On2 has also aggressively optimised their default encoder for PSNR while completely ignoring SSIM in order to help in the "good-looking numbers" department.

Back in the real world, users will just download encoders and decoders from countries without patent restrictions (hello Handbrake and VLC), for everything else the price of the encoder and/or the decoder is hidden in the product price (be it smartphones or proprietary video editing software or OSes), usage for streaming is free, so nobody will use an inferior codec and wait forever for his videos to be compressed or get an inferior quality/size ratio just because some FOSS advocates think it is so much of a burden to download from a French website or because they like to make a political statement out of everything.

Edited 2016-11-06 21:18 UTC

Reply Parent Score: 3

Quikee Member since:
2010-07-06

People have to pay for the patented codec because nobody has managed to make a true rival. On2 made some codecs which were essentially H.264 while avoiding the H.264 patents, and the results when compared with x264 (considered the best H.264 encoder) for the same amount of compression time were ridiculous. Of course, Google rigged the tests and used a mode in vpxenc which will take hours to encode a video (cpu-used=0) and made some good-looking numbers, but they were just that: good-looking numbers.

On2 has also aggressively optimised their default encoder for PSNR while completely ignoring SSIM in order to help in the "good-looking numbers" department.


PSNR is what the industry used to measure quality of the coding tools used. This is also true in the process when the H.264 was developed (and I think this didn't change with H.265 either). By that you could say H.264 is also tuned towards PSNR, so I don't see how VP8 was rigged - they just tuned to the metric everyone was tuning to (also note that x264 used --tune PSNR in their tests).

SSIM is not better than PSNR either - it is just a different metric which also has its advantages and flaws and doesn't correspond to human visual perception (for example both don't even take chroma values into account).

x264 is such a good encoder just because it was carefully optimized against subjective visual quality not a particular metric.

Anyway it is 2016 now (soon to be 2017) and we have VP9 available for quite some time, which is better than H.264 by quite a nice margin. It is gaining more support recently (more encoders besides libvpx are being produced, more chips support it in hardware) and still is free to use by anyone for any use-case they have.

Back in the real world, users will just download encoders and decoders from countries without patent restrictions (hello Handbrake and VLC), for everything else the price of the encoder and/or the decoder is hidden in the product price (be it smartphones or proprietary video editing software or OSes), usage for streaming is free, so nobody will use an inferior codec and wait forever for his videos to be compressed or get an inferior quality/size ratio just because some FOSS advocates think it is so much of a burden to download from a French website or because they like to make a political statement out of everything.


If you download the encoder from another country doesn't mean that you don't break the law in your country and don't need to license it. And even in France (or many other countries in Europe) they would need to license it as many H.264 patents are filed there too.

It is not just about FOSS advocates at all, it is also about small business and users. How crazy the patent situation can become you can see with H.265 where even the big software, hardware and streaming companies rather join Google's efforts to create a patent unencumbered codec, than deal the licensing mess of H.265.

Reply Parent Score: 1