There’s been a lot of discussion in media circles about the High Efficiency Video Codec (HEVC, or H.265 to its friends). As the latest video encoding standard from the MPEG consortium, it offers a dramatic improvement in encoding efficiency over H.264/AVC – on the order of 100%. It’s the sole supported means of encoding video for Blu-ray 4K, playback is supported on new graphics chips and computing devices, and it’s got widespread industry support. Despite all that, HEVC hasn’t enjoyed the swift adoption H.264 did more than a decade ago. As it turns out, there are good reasons it hasn’t gotten traction yet.
Not too long after the start of The Great Recession I was an environmental geologist. I did a lot of work for different firms – ranging from Phase I Environmental Site Assessments to ongoing soil and groundwater remediation and environmental characterization – and on this partly overcast, gorgeous early autumn day I was waiting at a closed gas station with an environmental scientist from another firm. I’d run out to supervise the plugging and abandoning of a groundwater monitoring well, he was waiting to sign a chain of custody sheet and see several drums of designated waste off for proper disposal, and frankly we got bored. At some point – once we’d chatted a bit and realized we had several interests in common – my erstwhile companion realized that there were boxes of candy set out by the trash for pickup.
Matrox is a company which designed video cards for IBM compatible computers, along with a selection of other multimedia-centric devices. In the 90s they were competitive in a crowded market, and the Mystique was a card they offered at the dawn of consumer-level 3D accelerators in 1996. It was the first video card I ever bought, and its marketing touted capabilities as a singular solution for fast, high quality 2D and video playback as well as video games.
For 2D desktop work and video playback, it delivered. Video looked great, 2D was fast and fluid, and it was a major upgrade over the integrated video on my old Compaq Pentium 90. The Mystique also offered quality VESA video mode support, which was useful for the bevy of MS-DOS games still widely available. The 3D was an unfortunately different story. Their previous, well-received card was the Millennium, which offered some very basic 3D acceleration of line drawing and geometry. Matrox built upon that technical foundation for the Mystique but prioritized speed over quality while aiming to keep the complexity of the chip economical. Consequently, they left out so many rendering features that the card didn’t actually *work* with most games that came out afterward, or a fair number that already existed when it was new.
Last night’s dream revolved around a funny joke from an old episode of The Simpsons that never actually happened. Because dreams slip away before you have a chance to write them down, all I remember was that Homer Simpson snuck up on someone selling food, fooled them under flimsy pretenses, and then smuggled away eight hot dogs by cramming them into parts of his face. There was some deeper relevance, but when I woke up at 4:30 this morning for no reason that had already evaporated.
Somehow my subconscious resented this. Within moments of closing my eyes I started dreaming again, only now I was on a panel convened to study the issue. Not content with its surviving cognitive morsel, my brain had convened a team of experts, including my tenth grade English teacher who was silently ablaze with heatless fire, a large man stuffed into a pink leisure suit, “the teddy bear committee,” a pile of stuffed animals cohabitating in an office chair, and an unidentified woman in a revealing bikini who picked things out of her teeth. Something told me this would take a while.
Footage was reviewed. Footage was re-reviewed with an array of signal processing methods – false color infrared imaging, low pass filters, transcoding to different video formats. Conference calls were placed with people who only wanted to talk about soup. A speculative fiction writer attempted to reconstruct the episode. A witness claiming to have seen the episode while engaged in sexual congress with her son’s gym teacher was interviewed by a one-eyed reporter. Someone called out for lunch, and edible waiters arrived an hour later carrying their own dipping sauces.
There was no resolution in sight. Finally, I said, “No, this meeting is pointless and will come to no good end, I’m done,” and when I opened the door to leave it was all clouds and light pink skies that I walked through. There were clouded glass floors, as far as the eye could see, until I found a big dog asleep by the real exit. It was hairless and wearing a knit sweater covered in white highlands terriers dressed for Christmas. I said it was a good dog and meant it, opened the door, and walked through into silence and restful sleep.