Blog | Allison Olien, Senior Director
June 2, 2015

Is HEVC the Next Step In The Evolution of Cable Network Architecture?

When it made its debut in the mid 1990s, digital video technology represented an opportunity for cable system operators and other MVPDs to deliver more content to their customers without rebuilding their physical plant. Could HEVC, the H.265 digital encoding standard, represent that same quantum leap for plant-based video architecture today?

Some industry experts would say the answer to that question is “yes.”  MPEG-2 digital video encoding allowed an MVPD to deliver 12 standard definition digital video channels or two to three HDTV channels using the same bandwidth as one 6MHz analog channel. H.264/MPEG-4 doubled that ratio. The new H.265 HEVC standard provides an additional 50% improvement over current platforms, delivering 24 SD channels or six HD channels in the same 6 MHz spectrum.[i]

With many MVPDs still using MPEG-2 headend architecture, HEVC could provide an opportunity take advantage of a compression standard that’s also being used for delivering IP video to connected media devices. Additionally, HEVC can support 4K, or “Ultra HD” video, as well as HDR (high dynamic range), an emerging video format that is capturing the interest of video producers as a means of achieving levels of pixelation closer to that of the human eye.[ii]

Online Video and HEVC  

While much of the cable industry’s discussion about HEVC has centered on its role in supporting Ultra HD, online video distributors and other broadband services providers are embracing HEVC as a means to lower their bandwidth costs. [iii]  With studies showing as many as a billion or more viewing devices are capable of HEVC playback, experts say adoption of the technology will allow a pure OTT provider to deliver 720p HD content over streams that were previously limited to 480p SD content.[iv]  Taking advantage of the larger base of HEVC-enabled devices, the OTT community has also been among the first to market Ultra HD content, including last year’s product launches from Netflix and Amazon.[v]

HEVC and the Migration to All-IP

Considerations in adopting Ultra HD include the costs of equipment at each headend, lack of Ultra HD sets in market and long-term plans for a full-IP launch. However, some analysts are saying it’s not too soon to consider incorporating HEVC technology as part of the roadmap toward an all-IP network architecture. For example, an analysis conducted by IBB Consulting finds that the benefits of early HEVC deployments can include:  a.) Reduced backbone and regional IP network demands; b.) Minimized cable modem termination systems (CMTS) and access network bandwidth requirements; and c.) Increased quality of experience on all screens.[vi]

The recent INTX show demonstrated that the supplier community is introducing technology to support HEVC. In addition to the availability of HEVC HD encoders, a growing number of industry suppliers are also offering multi-format integrated receiver-decoders (IRDs) for supporting MPEG-2, MPEG-4 and HEVC, as well as IPTV and Ultra HD set-top boxes. Cable MSOs have also developed video streaming apps that will work with connected Ultra HD televisions.[vii]


[i] Don’t wait for 4K: The case for deploying HEVC today, Erica Robinson, managing consultant, IBB Consulting, for CED Magazine, September 2014

[ii] HDR: welcome to the next big shift in home entertainment, TechRadar, April 2015

[iii] What Is HEVC (H.265)?Streaming Media MagazineFebruary 14, 2014

[iv] HEVC: Raising All Resolution Boats?,

[v] Netflix Shifts 4K Video to Premium Tier, Light Reading, October 13, 2014

[vi] Don’t wait for 4K: The case for deploying HEVC today (see endnote #1)

[vii] Comcast Tees Up 4K Box, Bigger 4K Service, Multichannel News, May 6, 2015