Intel’s over-the-top compression

One of the more interesting tidbits dropped by Intel Media corporate VP Erik Huggers in his discussion at the D:Dive Into Media conference last week was that the chipmaker’s plans for an over-the-top virtual cable TV service include the use of HEVC, the new, high-efficiency video compression format approved this month by the ITU and now known as H.265.

Depending on when Intel actually rolls out its planned new set-top box, it could be among the first service providers — OTT or otherwise — to deploy the new codec, which could give it some competitive advantages over other fixed-line OTT providers. With a roughly 2X improvement in bandwidth efficiency over H.264, Intel’s service will have an easier time slipping under ISP’s bandwidth caps than Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Xbox Live, and other current-generation OTT services. And as Philip Hunter pointed out last week on the Broadcast Engineering blog, H.265 will also allow Intel to deliver higher-quality HD video over limited bandwidth than Netflix or the others currently deliver.

Hunter also speculates that H.265 could enable 4K video delivery over IP at about 15 Mb/s. While toward the high end of typical U.S. broadband speeds, it’s not totally out of reach for FiOS users or some cable subscribers. That opens up the possibility that Intel could deliver at least some limited amount of 4K video, which would likely endear it to content owners, many of whom are currently ramping up 4K production but have few distribution outlets in which to show it off.

Other fixed-line OTT providers may find it hard to catch up to Intel as well, should H.265 prove a meaningful advantage. Most current set-top’s lack the processing power to decode H.265, even if it could be loaded onto the device. By starting from scratch with a new box, Intel will be able to include the necessary chipset for H.265.