|H.264 received Final Draft status on March 28, 2003 by the Joint
Video Team (JVT), a committee of Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG)
and International Standards Organization/International Telecommunications
Union (ISO/ITU). Final ratification of H.264 by the ITU happened
on May 30th. H.264 is also known as MPEG 4 part 10.
|The bottom line is that H.264 enables videoconferences to connect
at half the bandwidth and still retain the same quality or it will
deliver twice the quality at the same bandwidth normally used.
|What is H.264?
|A new video encoding and decoding scheme has been added as a standard
under the International Telecommunications Union's (ITU) H.320 and
H.323 umbrella for low bandwidth videoconferencing over ISDN and
IP. This new codec provides near broadcast quality video, in part,
by supporting 60 fields per second (30 full frames) and an advanced
method of reducing, if not eliminating, the pixelization we often
see when using H.261 or H.263 video codecs when there is a lot of
motion or scene changes.
|The ITU, along with Internet streaming and other standards organizations,
formed a "Joint Video Team" (JVT) to come up with a common
format codec for both MPEG users and videoconferencing users. The
resulting new standard codec is know as JVT/AVC (Advanced Video Coder).
It is known by the MPEG industry at MPEG 2 Part 10 and by the ITU
and the videoconferencing industry as H.264.
|H.263, the codec in use the past several years, supports 30 frames
per second video. In television video, each frame has two interlaced
fields. Prior to compressing, one field is tossed aside (every other
line) by H.263 to produce 30 frames per second video at the narrow
bandwidths used in videoconferencing. Thus, each compressed video
frame corresponds to only one of two input video fields. The result
is a somewhat lower video resolution quality of 352x288 pixels or "video
|The H.264 protocol improves the video resolution quality in the
H.323 protocol suite by encoding and transmitting two interlaced
fields for each frame. That is 30 frames per second and 60 fields
per second (instead of only 30 fields per second of H.263). This
process allows us to present decoded video that is immensely more
fluid and lifelike. The result of this enhancement is a substantially
higher resolution quality that approaches or matches MPEG-2 quality
at a 64% lower bandwidth cost.
|H.264 also handles the encoding of the pixel blocks more efficiantly
than H.263, practically eliminating the tiling or pixellation seen
on videoconferences today when there is a "scene" change
or a lot of motion.
|Wisconsin VCS H.264 Research and Demonstrations:
|Since May 5th, they have been demonstrating H.264 video to many
of their Wisconsin videoconference users and potential users. During
the demonstrations, they compared H.264 to H.263 in side-by-side
projected images. They also compared H.264 with MPEG 2 in side by
|At 384K and 768K, there is a remarkable difference in the video
quality as perceived by the human eye. They have also compared H.264
at 384K against H.263 at 768K and even then found, though more subtle,
a difference in the video quality.
|They have also compared side by side, H.264 at 768K with MPEG 2
at 4 Meg. The H.264 video is amazingly similar in quality to the
2 signal. Some of the fine lines in the video were just a bit more
jagged in the H.264, which was not noticed by many of those attending
|These demonstrations were conducted over a lab simulated network
configured similar to the WiscNet backbone with two member LANs connected
to the edge. The codecs used were Polycom FX's for the H.263 video
and two Polycom iPower 9000 codecs for the H.264 video. They also
used a Minerva MPEG encoder and a decoder to provide the MPEG 2 video.
|Test video is from a DVD movie with a lot of motion. The video
is fed into the three codecs at Site B. The three codecs are each
connected to the same model codec at Site A over the lab network
(FX to FX, 9000 to 9000, Minerva to Minerva). At Site A, they projected
the decoded H.263, H.264 and the MPEG 2 side by side.
|Will my legacy Polycom unit support H.264?
|We consider endpoints with H.264 compatibility essential to our
endpoint recommendations. The protocol will alleviate current H.323
resolution quality perceptions, provide more bandwidth for multiple,
concurrent videoconferences and permit interconnection with the substantial
deployment of non-H.264 compatible H.323 systems.
|We understand that Polycom is developing a software upgrade for
the FX, EX and 4000 models of their codecs to support H.264 to be
available in 2004. Older models, such as the 512 and 128 will not
We have no word on the ViaVideo at this time.
|Where can I learn more about H.264?
|~Exerpts for the material on this
page have been graciously contributed by Wisconsin VCS Videoconference