Latest Move Seeks to Increase Adoption of High-Efficiency UHD Codec, But an Open Source Solution Is on the Way

In an effort to speed up adoption of HEVC (H.265) on PCs and mobile devices, license administrator HEVC Advance says it will not seek a license or royalty payments for browsers, media players, and other software applications that use the codec.

HEVC Advance, which manages a patent pool for HEVC/H.265 technology, said it will not demand licenses or royalty payments when HEVC functionality is implemented in application layer software downloaded to a PC or mobile device after the initial sale. This would essentially make the HEVC codec free for use in browsers, media players and other software applications as long as it is "fully executed in software on a general purpose CPU," the company said.

It's not the first concession HEVC Advance has made in the name of promoting adoption of HEVC. Late last year, the company reduced the maximum per-device royalty rate, instituted annual royalty aps, and waived royalties on content that is presented free to end users.

"A critical goal of HEVC Advance is to encourage widespread adoption of HEVC/UHD technology in consumer devices," said HEVC Advance CEO Peter Moller. "While HEVC technology implemented in specialized hardware circuitry provides the best and most efficient user experience, there are millions of existing mobile devices and personal computers that do not have HEVC hardware capability. Our initiative is tailored to enable software app and browser providers to include HEVC capability in their software products so that everyone can enjoy HEVC/UHD video today."

Because HEVC is said to offer roughly double the compression ratio at roughly the same picture quality as its predecessor, AVC, it is widely thought to be crucial to implementations of high-resolution 4K/UHD media playback. That could change in 2017, as the Alliance for Open Media — an organization that includes Adobe, Amazon, Google, Intel, Microsoft and Netflix among its members — prepares to launch its own competing royalty-free codec, AV1.

Companies licensing their HEVC patents through HEVC Advance include Dolby Laboratories, General Electric, MediaTek, Philips, Mitsubishi and Warner Bros. Entertainment. Unfortunately, HEVC Advance is not the only organization licensees have to deal with — MPEG LA represents dozens of companies that say they have patents that are essential to the HEVC standard, including Apple, JVC Kenwood, NEC, and Samsung. Adding to the confusion, Technicolor dropped out of the HEVC Advance pool earlier this year, saying it would license its technology to vendors directly.