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MPEG introduces new codec that cuts download time in half

A year from now, you'll still be waiting and watching status bars while downloading movies or video on the internet -- but you may be waiting only half as long. The people who invented the MPEG video file format have announced they're rolling out a supercharged new video standard that uses only half the bandwidth to download a file of the exact same quality. The developers plan to roll out the new codec in 2013, and expect widespread adoption in computers, phones, and tablets shortly thereafter.

The new codec is called High Efficiency Video Coding, or HEVC, and purports to be twice as efficient as the current standard compression format, called H.264/AVC.

If the term H.264/AVC needs no introduction to you, then you'll want to dig right into this white paper describing the new video compression standard. It describes the new format, and how it will be able to cut your video download times in half, or double the number of channels you can carry on internet telvision.

"It means you can halve the bit rate and still achieve the same visual quality, or double the number of television channels with the same bandwidth, which will have an enormous impact on the industry," writes Per Fröjdh, the chairperson of the Swedish MPEG delegation. MPEG is not just a file format, it's also the name of the Moving Pictures Expert Group, the international organization that sets internet standards for video and audio coding and transmission.

The goal of this new, souped-up codec isn't just for you to download Season Four of "Breaking Bad" more quickly -- but yes, that is a nice benefit. The real goal here is to lower the overall video bandwidth load on servers, and accomodate consumer demand for more HD video on the web.

Right now, video accounts for more than half of all server bandwidth. The MPEG organization estimates that by 2015, video will be hogging more than 90% of all server bandwidth. Unless something is done about this, we'll all be sitting there watching choppier, slower, and more easily crapped-out streams over the next couple of years.

This is particularly alarming to the mobile phone industry. They know we're watching unprecedented amounts of video on our smartphones, and boy do we like to bellyache when it doesn't work.

That's why this more efficient codec is being introduced now. The MPEG folks estimate that if they launch HEVC next year, device manufacturers will immediately begin making their phones, computers, and tablets HEVC-ready. So you'll be enjoying those twice-as-fast downloads before the end of 2013.

And at the rate your downloads are slowly crawling right now, you might not even be done with Season Four of "Breaking Bad" by that point.