H.265also known as HEVC (High Efficiency Video Coding), is a video compression standard developed by a group of experts made up of two organizations: Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG) e Video Coding Experts Group (VCEG) dell’ITU-T.
Compared to its predecessors, H.265 offers multiple advantages including greater compression efficiency (same video quality at a lower bitrate or higher quality at a similar bitrate). It also supports higher resolutions, handles complex image sequences more efficiently (for example scenes with many color variations or rapid movements), ensures greater flexibility in profiles and configurations. Finally, H.265 is designed with theparallel processingmaking it more suitable for modern hardware.
The licensing issue with H.265 HEVC
Unlike the AV1 codec, which it is also looking at Netflixwhich is open and royalty-free, H.265 is instead bound to various types of licenses. Implementing H.265 may require royalty payments with i patents which to date are managed by various entities. There are also versions of H.265 royalty-freesuch as the open source project libde265.
As often happens with this type of technology, companies and developers are navigating a minefield so much so that it is always advisable to carefully check the licenses and associated patent obligations through the licensing involved.
In 2016, HEVC Advance (one of the organizations that own the intellectual property on H.265) had announced that it would not require licensing or royalty payments royalty for software implementing HEVC functionality: browsers, media players and other software applications, downloaded to mobile devices or PCs after the initial sale of the device, provided that the encoding and decoding tasks were performed via software on a general-purpose CPU. This stance effectively made the H.265 codec free for use in certain circumstances.
Why Netflix could no longer use the H.265 codec
The well-known platform of streaming online has long been involved in a legal battle with Broadcom which claims the validity of one of its patents. According to a German court, Netflix uses the H.265 codec in violation of a patent owned by Broadcomwithout having received any prior and explicit authorization for its use.
Since Netflix uses H.265 to optimize the video stream transfer towards each individual customer, the company could be required to pay up to 250,000 euros for each individual violation.
In a recent ruling, dating back to September 2023, the German court in Munich had established the validity of a Broadcom HEVC patent while simultaneously ordering Netflix to cease the use of the technology described in the patent itself during the streaming on video con 4K resolution. Since Netflix appears to have failed to comply with the injunction, Broadcom has requested the intervention of the specialized court to enforce patent rules.
However, it is not certain that the game will end in favor of Broadcom: a final decision from the judges is in fact expected in July 2024. Netflix’s defense will be heard by that date.