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  • H.264/MPEG-4 AVC

    H.264 or MPEG-4 Part 10, Advanced Video Coding (MPEG-4 AVC) is a block-oriented motion-compensation-based video compression standard. As of 2014, it is one of the most commonly used formats for the recording, compression, and distribution of video content. It supports resolutions up to 81924320, including 8K UHD.

    H.264 was developed by the ITU-T Video Coding Experts Group (VCEG) together with the ISO/IEC JTC1 Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG). The project partnership effort is known as the Joint Video Team (JVT). The ITU-T H.264 standard and the ISO/IEC MPEG-4 AVC standard (formally, ISO/IEC 14496-10 MPEG-4 Part 10, Advanced Video Coding) are jointly maintained so that they have identical technical content. The final drafting work on the first version of the standard was completed in May 2003, and various extensions of its capabilities have been added in subsequent editions. High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC), a.k.a. H.265 and MPEG-H Part 2 is a successor to H.264/MPEG-4 AVC developed by the same organizations, while earlier standards are still in common use.

    In December 2001, VCEG and the Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 29/WG 11) formed a Joint Video Team (JVT), with the charter to finalize the video coding standard. Formal approval of the specification came in March 2003. The JVT was (is) chaired by Gary Sullivan, Thomas Wiegand, and Ajay Luthra (Motorola, U.S.: later Arris, U.S.). In June 2004, the Fidelity range extensions (FRExt) project was finalized. From January 2005 to November 2007, the JVT was working on an extension of H.264/AVC towards scalability by an Annex (G) called Scalable Video Coding (SVC). The JVT management team was extended by Jens-Rainer Ohm (Aachen University, Germany). From July 2006 to November 2009, the JVT worked on Multiview Video Coding (MVC), an extension of H.264/AVC towards free viewpoint television and 3D television. That work included the development of two new profiles of the standard: the Multiview High Profile and the Stereo High Profile.

    The next major feature added to the standard was Multiview Video Coding (MVC). Specified in Annex H of H.264/AVC, MVC enables the construction of bitstreams that represent more than one view of a video scene. An important example of this functionality is stereoscopic 3D video coding. Two profiles were developed in the MVC work: Multiview High Profile supports an arbitrary number of views, and Stereo High Profile is designed specifically for two-view stereoscopic video. The Multiview Video Coding extensions were completed in November 2009.

    To ensure compatibility and problem-free adoption of H.264/AVC, many standards bodies have amended or added to their video-related standards so that users of these standards can employ H.264/AVC. Both the Blu-ray Disc format and the now-discontinued HD DVD format include the H.264/AVC High Profile as one of three mandatory video compression formats. The Digital Video Broadcast project (DVB) approved the use of H.264/AVC for broadcast television in late 2004.

    In 2009, the HTML5 working group was split between supporters of Ogg Theora, a free video format which is thought to be unencumbered by patents, and H.264, which contains patented technology. As late as July 2009, Google and Apple were said to support H.264, while Mozilla and Opera support Ogg Theora (now Google, Mozilla and Opera all support Theora and WebM with VP8). Microsoft, with the release of Internet Explorer 9, has added support for HTML 5 video encoded using H.264. At the Gartner Symposium/ITXpo in November 2010, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer answered the question "HTML 5 or Silverlight?" by saying "If you want to do something that is universal, there is no question the world is going HTML5." In January 2011, Google announced that they were pulling support for H.264 from their Chrome browser and supporting both Theora and WebM/VP8 to use only open formats.

    Because H.264 encoding and decoding requires significant computing power in specific types of arithmetic operations, software implementations that run on general-purpose CPUs are typically less power efficient. However, the latest quad-core general-purpose x86 CPUs have sufficient computation power to perform real-time SD and HD encoding. Compression efficiency depends on video algorithmic implementations, not on whether hardware or software implementation is used. Therefore, the difference between hardware and software based implementation is more on power-efficiency, flexibility and cost. To improve the power efficiency and reduce hardware form-factor, special-purpose hardware may be employed, either for the complete encoding or decoding process, or for acceleration assistance within a CPU-controlled environment.

    A private organization known as MPEG LA, which is not affiliated in any way with the MPEG standardization organization, administers the licenses for patents applying to this standard, as well as the patent pools for MPEG-2 Part 1 Systems, MPEG-2 Part 2 Video, MPEG-4 Part 2 Video, HEVC, MPEG-DASH, and other technologies. The MPEG LA H.264 patents in the US last at least until 2027.