Comparative guide of H.264 with other codecs

Video codecs are software or hardware standards used by the video production industry for compression and decompression purposes, in order to achieve smaller file sizes with optimum image quality for easy storage and distribution, and good video playback experience. 

The codec applies the encoding algorithm for video files compression into a “container format”, which are decompressed when transported across the internet for suitable viewing video delivery. 

Also, the video codecs are essentially of two types – lossy and lossless, which is based on the quality and size of the captured video after decompression. The lossy compression leads to some loss of quality but reduces the file size to a larger extent, whereas, lossless compression retains the image quality of video files but reduces the file size only to a smaller extent. For video, image and audio compression, lossy codecs are preferred, as the priority is to deliver faster video content online, with good streamable quality at reasonable data rates. 

Let’s understand the most preferred video codecs in the industry – H.264, and its comparative points with other codecs – H.265, and VP9. 

What is H.264?

H.264 video codec provides the most efficient video compression, distribution and decompression standards for low-latency video streaming. It is the most widely used video codec because of its wide range of container formats – MP4, gtff, Mxf, ps, ts, M2ts, 3gp, f4v, evo, mkv, asf, avi.  


The H.264 video codec is widely compatible with any type of device – computers, laptops, mobile phones, tabs, etc. of any brand around the world. This means that it can be used with a variety of systems – both low and high resolution and bitrates, and video streaming technologies – HD-video broadcast and storage.  


H.264 video codec provides 40-50% bit rate reduction as compared to its predecessors, with frame support for videos up to 4K, 59.94 fps, and 21 profiles and 17 levels. It provides best performance for smaller use cases which requires most-accepted device compatibility.

What is H.265?

H.265 video codec, also called High-efficiency video coding (HEVC), was developed for better bitrate reduction and efficient video transmission and streaming quality, delivering sharper and more detailed, with least blocking video frame quality.


H.265 is not compatible with most of the devices and browsers, due to its specific use case application for high-end video compression technology required in large broadcasting companies.  


Ofcourse, H.265/ HEVC delivers 4K to 8K broadcasting service with lower bandwidth requirements than H.264, for better image quality. This is because it uses coding tree units (CTUs) processing technique, which allows for processing up to 64×64 blocks, which results in better video compression quality. Also, it supports spatial prediction and motion compression technology than H.264 codec, which requires higher hardware power to compress the data. 

What is VP9 Codec?

VP9 video codec technology is widely accepted, an open-source compression standard, which works effectively for higher-resolution PCs, and for OTT video delivery platforms. 


For video quality of HD and above, VP9 outperforms HEVC and H.264 codecs, due to its hardware decoding on ARM and Intel devices. It is compatible with various devices – android, iOS, and browsers like Safari, Google Chrome, etc., along with video streaming technology giants like Netflix.  


VP9 codec provides better bitrate streaming, with twice as effective as H,264, with only using half the data for streaming 4K content online with better image quality. 


Video codec standards are evolving with different technological advancements for better quality, and lowest bitrate possible. H.264 video codec outperforms HEVC and VP9 codecs, in terms of compatibility with most devices, browsers, and streaming platforms. But, when it comes to performance, HEVC and VP9 triumph over H.264 with better image quality, bandwidth requirements, and bitrate reduction rate.

Christopher Stern

Christopher Stern is a Washington-based reporter. Chris spent many years covering tech policy as a business reporter for renowned publications. He has extensive experience covering Congress, the Federal Communications Commission, and the Federal Trade Commissions. He is a graduate of Middlebury College. Email:[email protected]

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