What is HEVC?: Inside the High-Efficiency Video Coding (H.265) Format

By Emily KringsJan 24, 2024

If you’re actively uploading video-on-demand (VOD) content or live streaming to an audience, it’s probably because of practical business reasons like lead generation, brand awareness, and direct revenue. For all of these goals, the quality of your content should be a high priority.

The technology that powers your video content matters because you can only provide quality video and a smooth playback experience for your audience if your content is broadcast with the optimal settings. One crucial aspect of the video is the compression you use.

Lately, HEVC has become a trending topic in the world of digital video since it is one of the most advanced video codecs on the market.

In this article, we will talk all about HEVC. We will discuss what it is and how it works to help you determine whether or not it’s the right compression standard for your content. 

Table of Contents

What is HEVC?

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High-efficiency video coding (HEVC), also known as H.265 and MPEG-H Part 2, is one of the newest and most advanced video compression standards available. HEVC was created by MPEG and VCEG and ratified in 2013. 

What makes HEVC interesting is that it can compress video with a double data compression rate, meaning it only requires half the bitrate to maintain the same video quality (compared to its immediate predecessor, AVC/H.264) – or for the same bitrate, it can provide double the video quality.

But what does all this talk about compression even mean, and how does HEVC compare to AVC? Let’s talk about it!

Understanding Video Compression

As a quick refresher, video compression is the process of taking raw video and making the video files smaller so that they can be distributed to your audience more effectively and efficiently over the internet.

Any time you make a video, the resulting file takes up some amount of space based on factors like the video’s resolution, frame rate, total length, and file type. Compression allows you to strip out some of the non-essential information or data of a raw video file to reduce its total size.

But why would businesses want to share a more manageable size for their video online? In almost every case, the reduced cost and wider accessibility of a compressed video offset the small loss in video quality that comes with compression.


Now that we know more about compression, let’s dive into how HEVC and AVC stack up.

First of all, the real-world impact of HEVC is that it uses more advanced compression techniques that allow it to compress video files to roughly half the size of AVC at the same level of video quality. HEVC also supports higher video resolutions that have become more common, including 4K and even 8K.

There’s no question that HEVC is a more sophisticated way to compress your video files for uploading and streaming. 

Ultimately, there are two main advantages of the previous compression standard (AVC/H.264): (1) it’s more widely entrenched and supported across the web than HEVC, and (2) it requires less processing power to encode and decode.

Why Make the Shift to HEVC?

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In practical terms, there are some compelling reasons to invest in HEVC encoding as a content creator or brand.

Obviously, you already strive to provide the best possible viewing experience for your audience. This includes not just the sharpness of your video, but also smooth playback and accessibility. 

With HEVC encoding, you can stream more efficiently, which opens up a wider viewing audience. For example, if you have a live stream broadcasting at 1080p with a bitrate of 10 Mbps via AVC, you could have the same stream at 1080p quality with a bitrate of just 5 Mbps via HEVC.

HEVC is also essential if you plan to broadcast at a resolution higher than Full HD – such as ultra-high definition in 4K or 8K – or stream in other “futuristic” video formats like immersive virtual reality, augmented reality, and 360-degree videos. 

All of these trends require a much higher data load to display than a typical video, which is why high efficiency video compression will play such an important role in them going forward.

How to Start Using the HEVC Codec

There are some advanced methods for using the HEVC codec, usually through a hardware-based encoder and RTMP. 

It’s not bad to stay up on new technologies, but the biggest caveat to HEVC is that the broader ecosystem hasn’t yet caught up to this codec, including encoding technologies and player vendors. It’s a lot like how the general public sees electric vehicles as more efficient than gas-powered vehicles, but because charging stations are still limited compared to gas stations, most people haven’t made the jump to electric just yet.

Here at Maestro, if you check out our recommended settings for live streams, you’ll see that we still suggest using the H.264 video codec. This is primarily about compatibility – while a reduced bitrate is theoretically great for your audience, you also need their players and devices to be compatible with your video codec in order to get as many viewers as possible. 

We recommend that unless you have a highly sophisticated video operation and the know-how to set it up properly, you hold off on HEVC and stick with AVC – for now. With that said, it’s worth keeping a close eye on developments in compression and the online video space so you can take full advantage of the best opportunities to improve the watching experience for your audiences.

Make Maestro Your Online Video Platform


Choosing the right codec to support your stream will help you create higher-quality results. In the end, you’ll want to experiment with the settings you go with to make sure you’re balancing content quality, smooth playback, and compatibility with the widest possible audience. 

Of course, when you’re ready to get video content in front of viewers, you’ll need an online video platform.

Maestro offers an end-to-end video CMS for hosting, monetizing, and delivering your streaming experiences. Plus, with our drag-and-drop website builder, you can set up a professional-looking streaming website with a few clicks. Choose your branding, add monetization, and go live in just minutes.

Sign up today to host exclusive streams for your audience in no time at all.

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