The HEVC standard doubles data compression, while enabling far higher resolutions

Imaging may be the key differentiator in the crowded mobile handset market, but the challenge is in delivering high definition images on the small screen. The trick is to compress images without sacrificing what makes them HD quality.

The bandwagon to climb on to achieve this is the brand-new High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC) standard, which is the successor to the MPEG-4 standard. Its USP is that it doubles data compression, while simultaneously enabling far higher resolutions, of up to 8,192x4,320 pixels. The widespread adoption of 3G and the impending countrywide dispersal of 4G networks has laid the ground for the delivery of stunning visuals in small form factor devices.

Srini Rajam, founder of Ittiam Systems, a Bangalore-based venture capital-funded company that employs around 250 people, says 4G offers the possibility of delivery of HD quality movies and images, which was earlier only possible through the broadcast medium or through DVDs.

Attractive as this may sound, both device manufacturers as well as broadcasters will need “to do additional work at their end to handle the processing complexities” in order to maximise the full potential of what the network as well as the new compression technology offers, he says.

Processing power

First, in order to play back the content, the device needs to have the processing power to handle the richer, but heavier, file formats. Ittiam, a company whose business model is based on the generation of intellectual property (IP), builds solutions into a range of mobile devices, especially those running on Android, the runaway leader in the OS space in the world of mobile devices. Ittiam thus works with the handset and semiconductor companies (which are the suppliers to the handset manufacturers).

The second leg, which is the intermediary — the broadcaster or carrier of content — also requires a solution that facilitates the encoding of content (images, mostly, in this case).

Mr. Rajam explains that Ittiam’s position as a solution provider at “both ends’ of the business has given it a unique advantage. He claimed Ittiam was one of the few companies to showcase HEVC “in an end-to-end fashion” at the U.S. National Association of Broadcasters convention at Las Vegas recently.

The company demonstrated its solution’s ability to encoding the data on a set top box, transcoding it on the cloud (which is what most companies want, he says) and finally playing the content on the mobile device.

Ittiam, which incidentally, is shorthand for “I Think, Therefore I am,” is in talks with many leading mobile handset manufacturers to install the solution for the new standard on their devices.

“We expect to install HEVC-enabled phones and tablets to hit the market by the end of the year,” says Mr. Rajam. Industry sources said such IP-based solutions may appear small, earning a royalty of perhaps a dollar per devices. “But the fact that they are sold in the millions is what makes this apparent trickle a flood,” says an industry source.