Why the H.264 video format is still gaining importance for video and streaming

H.264 video format what is
What does H.264 mean? Example for image compression | © Wikimedia Commons

H.264 is a method for video compression. It is now considered the industry standard and is one of the most widely used video formats. The recording of Full-HD videos and audio is just as unthinkable without this encoding and decoding process as the playback of modern videos.

The H.264 video format is the standard for encoding and decoding video signals today. It enables the transmission of high quality video signals without excessive demand on bandwidth. At the same time H.264 has a significantly lower bit rate than other formats.

You need to know about H.264

  • The term term refers to a method of video compression.
  • H.264 is now considered the standard for storing and playing back video formats.
  • Crucial for the success of the format is the usability up to a resolution of 4K (4092 x 2160 pixels)
  • The range of use of H.264 extends from YouTube and TV sets to professional video productions.
  • The video format is an open standard, but cannot be used without a license fee. This is to be paid to the MPEG-LA consortium.

What does H.264 mean?

We usually come into contact with the H.264 standard for video compression in connection with the MP4 file format. Nevertheless, both are to be distinguished. One is the algorithm for compression or decompression. The other is the “container” in which this procedure is used.

It should be noted that H.264 is not limited to the MP4 container format. When this standard was developed 15 (!) years ago, it was deliberately designed for a wide range of applications. If you want to add audio to the picture, a container format is required. As an algorithm, H.264 only compresses images.

Today, H.264 is the standard for Blu-Ray video discs. It is used uniformly by the various manufacturers. The same is true for high-definition television broadcasts. In general, the format is considered suitable for high quality and further professional processing. Conversely, compression naturally remains a data reduction. This is always accompanied by a certain loss compared to the original format!

Video cameras (digital cameras) also use the process to compress their recordings.

Manufacturers such as Apple, for example, use H.264 as the codec for QuickTime (version 7 or higher). The same applies to Microsoft Windows Media.

An H.264 file is a video file that uses this method. This includes, for example, MP4, HDTV, Blu-ray and earlier HD DVD.

The compression format thus supports a wide variety of applications. These are only limited by defined variables of the data stream. These are the maximum resolution or frame rate. The higher the bit rate of the respective video, the higher the levels are.

What is AVC / Advanced Video Coding?

Advanced Video Coding (AVC) is nothing more than a video file encoded with H.264. Sometimes the term is also used as a synonym for MP4. This term can be found, for example, in the description of the recording process of digital cameras (so-called AVC camcorders), also in connection with Blu-ray and HDTV.

In this video, get a detailed explanation of the H.264 video compression standard and its applications.

Video ThumbnailVideo Streaming Definitions: H.264 Video Compression Standard

Where are the limits of H.264?

The H.264/AVC standard is not limited to 4K as many believe. It also allows DCI 4K (which is 4092 x 2160 pixels) at a frame rate of 60 fps (frame per second). So SONY uses a system called XAVC, which is nothing else than 4K AVC.

The limits of H.264 today are not on the hardware or software side. They are in the bandwidths required for transmission. This is where the levels come into play. They define – and limit – the maximum data rate and resolution available for playback.

Playback on computer

In principle, H.264 can be used independently of a specific container format. In addition to the most common video format MP4, the standard can also be used for AVI files, Ogg formats or Matryoshka containers (.mkv).

MP4 with H.264 is considered the most suitable format for playing a video on YouTube. That’s because such files today are the best possible technical compromise between file sizes and data quality.

As always, when software (a player) plays back encoded videos, the computer’s processor (CPU) plays a decisive role. The hardware and the graphics card are important.

Further professional fields of application of H.264

As a quasi-industrial site for video compression, H.264 is already several years old. This does not detract from the popularity and growth of this video format.

YouTube, Pay TV and HDTV have long since ceased to be the only applications. In addition to consumer electronics, the technology is also becoming increasingly common in the area of corporate communications and related IT applications. Experts estimate that in the next five years the majority of still proprietary methods for data transmission in the image and audio sectors will be replaced by more flexible systems using the H.264 standard.

Video conferencing will also make a major contribution to this.

The successor format H.265

The future successor of H.264 already exists. It is called H.265 (also known as HEVC). It is considered to be up to 25% better at the same image quality because it guarantees the same high quality as its predecessor format at lower data transfer rates. It also offers other advantages.

Everything you need to know to properly compress, deliver, stream, share, and store videos

Video ThumbnailThe Ultimate h264 Video Encoding Tutorial

Recommended bitrates for uploads to YouTube in 4K

Video bit rates for SDR uploads (YouTube recommendation)

TypeVideo bit rate, standard frame rate
(24, 25, 30)
Video bitrate, high frame rate
(48, 50, 60)
2.160p (4K)35–45 Mbit/s53–68 Mbit/s
1.440p (2K)16 Mbit/s24 Mbit/s
1080p8 Mbit/s12 Mbit/s
720p5 Mbit/s7,5 Mbit/s
480p2,5 Mbit/s4 Mbit/s
360p1 Mbit/s1,5 Mbit/s

Source: YouTube

Video-Bitraten für HDR-Uploads (Empfehlung YouTube)

TypeVideo bit rate, standard frame rate
(24, 25, 30)
Video bitrate, high frame rate
(48, 50, 60)
2.160p (4K)44–56 Mbit/s66–85 Mbit/s
1.440p (2K)20 Mbit/s30 Mbit/s
1080p10 Mbit/s15 Mbit/s
720p6,5 Mbit/s9,5 Mbit/s
480pNot supportedNot supported
360pNot supportedNot supported

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Video ThumbnailH.264 is a method for video compression. It is now considered the industry standard and is one of the most widely used video formats. The recording of Full-HD videos and audio is just as unthinkable without this encoding and decoding process as the playback of modern videos. The H.264 video format i

Source: YouTube

Programs and software for H.264

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Commercial applications (selection):

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About Pavel Sokolov 27 Articles
Pavel studies film editing. He likes François Truffaut, Terrence Malick, Dr Pepper, his Thermaltake View 71 TG, music by Seeed and all things related to the colour red, but which do not cause pain to any living being.

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