Emergence of new HEVC patent pool clouds 4K's future

The emergence of a new patent pool for HEVC compression technology threatens to slow the deployment of 4K/Ultra HD services within the pay-TV industry and beyond.

On Thursday, a new group called HEVC Advance announced that it will begin licensing patents for high efficiency video encoding technology (aka "HEVC" or "H.265").

The emergence of a new patent licensing group, and the cost that will likely entail for producers and distributors of 4K content, inject an air of uncertainly into a 4K market that has only recently captured a little momentum towards its long-term goal of ubiquitous consumer adoption.

Inquiries by FierceCable to Broadcom and Deluxe--two major vendors behind the pay-TV industry's 4K/Ultra HD push--have not yet been responded to. Deluxe uses HEVC, for example, in the technological backbone it provides for 4K/Ultra HD services from DirecTV (NASDAQ: DTV) and Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA).

However, another vendor in the pay-TV 4K market, Envivio, did weigh in, saying the emergent patent pool will have little impact on deployment of 4K services.

"Patent pools, when they get established, can slow down initial deployments,' said Julien Signes, CEO of Envivio. "But if you review the history of the development of MPEG-4, and before that MPEG-2, we went through the same phases of posturing and competition among patent holders and different patent pools. History shows that rights ownership issues will always be resolved. No one thinks AVC is not usable today, so there is no reason HEVC can't move forward." 

HEVC Advance says it represents 500 patents that are "essential" to HEVC. The group expects its initial group of licensors to include GE, Technicolor, Dolby, Philips and Mitsubishi Electric. Royalty rates and licensing terms will be made available in the second quarter, with the group formally launching in the third quarter.

HEVC has been the compression standard of choice for cable operators, video streamers, consumer electronics companies, or anyone trying to transport 4K's dense data streams.

There is already an established patent pool, MPEG LA, that is licensing patents for 27 different patent holders for HEVC.

In his group's statement, HEVC representative Peter Moller seems to suggest not all HEVC patent holders are satisfied with MPEG LA.

 "The market is requiring a different approach to aggregating and making HEVC essential patents available for license," he said.

For more:
- read this CNET story
- read this HEVC Advance press release
- read this MPEG LA press release

Related links:
Forget 4K, HD is in only 44% of the global pay-TV market, study says
4K/Ultra HD displays will be in nearly half of U.S. living rooms by 2020, research firm says
Report: DirecTV plan to go all-HD ahead of schedule