They’ve done it again: video files again lost half their weight.

Some of you probably remember video discs (which used MPEG-1/H.261 for video compression), then there were DVDs (MPEG-2/H.262), then Blu-rays (MPEG-4 AVC/H.264). Between DVD and Blu-ray there was another video coding standard, the original MPEG-4, which didn’t make it onto optical discs, but was used quite a bit also. Each time, a bag of new algorithmic tricks meant that the video could be compressed twice as much.

Loosing weight is hard. In video compression, it’s quite the same. Just when you thought video can’t be compressed any further, there’s a new standard that’s done it again: HEVC compresses video at twice the rate of the preceeding standard. This means double the hours of video that can be stored on your disc, drive, stick or card. Double the number of channels broadcast over the air. Or half the download time. Or half the data usage on your phone plan. We’re clearly in anorexic territory here, and for once, I like it.


Pixels better than real life?

According to this survey by Motorola, Americans would rather watch the Superbowl on an HDTV than in person. “The survey results really speak to the popularity of high-definition programming,” said Doug Means from Motorola.

That’s a lame study and a lame statement. The results of the survey don’t say anything about the quality of HD video and how close it gets to being there. Yes, quite a few people would rather sit in their homes than take a plane and sit on a plastic seat for hours watching the game. Yes, a big screen TV presents a much better picture than an old Philco Predicta. But no, nothing compares to being there. And I can say that without having ever been to a superbowl game.

User-generated pixels

Ever heard of a show called Fun TV with Kato-chan and Ken-chan? Me neither. It was quite successful in Japan in the mid 1980s though and featured some of the first user-generated content. Later, ABC’s America’s Funniest Home Videos would follow the same recipe of showing slapstick movies that people captured at home with their camcorders. Fast forward to 2005, the year that YouTube was born based on the same principle, but on the internet. In 2007, less than two years later, YouTube was sold for $1.6 billion dollars to Google. Nowadays, over 9 billion videos are watched online per month in the US alone, and YouTube has about 30% of that market. That’s quite a lot of user-generated pixels, and for sure a number that will keep on growing for quite some time to come.

One year ago: analog pixels switched off

It’s been a year since they turned off all over-the-air analog broadcast of TV signals in the Netherlands. I haven’t heard a complaint since. Only about 74,000 households picked up the analog signals before, so that was to be expected. The extra bandwidth that became available unfortunately are now used to transmit encoded signals, which you have to pay KPN a monthly fee for to view. In return for the free over the air bandwidth, KPN built and maintains the digital broadcasting masts and systems. Sounds like a pretty good trade for the KPN to me, and a lousy trade for the government and us tax payers. My guess is that it is this monthly fee that is severely reducing the market introduction of digital portable TV receivers for in the car, mobile phones, etc. Even in the home it’d be handy — when was the last time you pulled a cable through your house?

Do any of you understand why we still have to pay for TV channels transmitted over the air while they contain more than 10 minutes of paid advertising per hour?