Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Why Video is Moving to H.264

It is well known that video applications are sopping up Internet bandwidth almost as fast as it can be deployed. Digital video is the hot new medium of communications. It's taking over television broadcasting, becoming a larger part of Web content, and being looked at as combination cost savings, productivity improvement and "green" enabler for corporations. Video has many things going for it and one big drawback. It's a bandwidth hog. In fact, it's a bandwidth monster.

A video coding standard called H.264 offers the opportunity to get better quality video at lower bandwidths. Yes, it's a compression standard. Hardly anybody can afford to have uncompressed high quality video running around their networks at anywhere from a couple hundred Mbps to over a Gbps. That's the realm of video producers and national broadcast networks. For other businesses and consumers, video compression is necessary to fit within the bandwidth of reasonably priced wireless and wireline transport systems. The real trick in compression is to reduce the bandwidth requirement while preserving the quality of the original video stream.

The popularity of H.264 is growing because it maintains perceived video quality while cutting bandwidth requirements by as much as half. It does this by using a sophisticated algorithm within its CODEC (Coder/Decoder) hardware and software. The coders and decoders aren't some simple circuitry. There's some very sophisticated processing going on in there to determine which bits can be dropped without anyone noticing and which much be preserved to maintain scene quality.

You'll be hearing a lot more about H.264 and see it popping up in the technical specifications of all sorts of equipment and applications. Cisco's TelePresence service, a high definition version of traditional video conferencing, uses H.264. So do HTDV broadcasters in Europe. Blu-Ray high definition DVDs are H.264 based. Apple has incorporated it as a standard in its QuickTime video player.

What H.264 has going for it is worldwide standardization and the ability to tailor its processing to accommodate a wide range of video requirements from cell phone displays, embedded players in Web pages all the way up to high end video conferences and HD videos. You'll also find it referred to as MPEG-4 Part 10 or MPEG-4 AVC (Advanced Video Coding). That's different than the earlier MPEG-4 Part 2 standard and certainly different than the MPEG-2 which is widely used for standard TV satellite transmission. Satellite TV services such as Dish Network and DirecTV use MPEG-2 for standard TV channels but MPEG-4 AVC for their newer HDTV channels.

If video is becoming an important part of your business tools or part of your creative content, you may already be feeling the pinch of limited bandwidth. Newer compression technology, such as H.264, may help ease the congestion. So will transport bandwidth upgrades that are less expensive now than ever before. Find out how Ethernet, bonded T1, and SONET fiber optic services can help you keep up with business bandwidth demands.

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