Feb 202016
 

H.265/HEVC logoRecently, after [successfully compiling] the next generation x265 H.265/HEVC video encoder on Windows, Linux and FreeBSD, I decided to ask for guidance when it comes to compressing Anime (live action will follow at a later time) in the Doom9 forums, [see here]. Thing is, I didn’t understand all of the knobs x265 has to offer, and some of the convenient presets of x264 didn’t exist here (like --tune film and --tune animation). So for a newbie it can be quite hard to make x265 perform well without sacrificing far too much CPU power, as x265 is significantly more taxing on the processor than x264.

Thanks to [Asmodian] and [MeteorRain]/[LittlePox] I got rid of x265s’ blurring issues, and I took their settings and turned them up to achieve more quality while staying within sane encoding times. My goal was to be able to encode 1080p ~24fps videos on an Intel Xeon X5690 hexcore @ 3.6GHz all-core boost clock at >=1fps for a target bitrate of 2.5Mbit.

In this post, I’d like to compare 7 scenes from the highly opulent Anime [The Garden of Words] (言の葉の庭) by [Makoto Shinkai] (新海 誠) at three different average bitrates, 1Mbit, 2.5Mbit (my current x264 default) and 5Mbit. The Blu-Ray source material is H.264/AVC at roughly 28Mbit on average. Also, both encoders are running in 10-bit color depth mode instead of the common 8-bit, meaning that the internal arithmetic precision is boosted from 8- to 16-bit integers as well. While somewhat “non-standard” for H.264/AVC, this is officially supported by H.265/HEVC for Blu-Ray 4K. The mode of operation is 2-pass to aim for comparable file sizes and bitrates. The encoding speed penalty for switching from x264 to x265 at the given settings is around a factor of 8. Somewhat.

The screenshots below are losslessly compressed 1920×1080 images. Since this is all about compression, I chose to serve the large versions of the images in WebP format to all browsers which support it (Opera 11+, Chromium-based Browsers like Chrome, Iron, Vivaldi, the Android Browser or Pale Moon as the only Gecko browser). This is done, because at maximum level, WebP does lossless compression much more efficiently, so the pictures are smaller. This helps, because my server only has 8Mbit/s upstream. If your browser doesn’t support WebP (like Firefox, IE, Edge, Safari), it’ll be fed lossless PNG instead. All of this happens automatically, you don’t need to do anything!

Now, let’s start with the specs.

Specifications:

Here are the source material encoding settings according to the video stream header:

cabac=1 / ref=4 / deblock=1:1:1 / analyse=0x3:0x133 / me=umh / subme=10 / psy=1 / psy_rd=0.40:0.00 /
mixed_ref=1 / me_range=24 / chroma_me=1 / trellis=2 / 8x8dct=1 / cqm=0 / deadzone=21,11 /
fast_pskip=1 / chroma_qp_offset=-2 / threads=12 / lookahead_threads=1 / sliced_threads=0 / slices=4 /
nr=0 / decimate=1 / interlaced=0 / bluray_compat=1 / constrained_intra=0 / bframes=3 / b_pyramid=1 /
b_adapt=2 / b_bias=0 / direct=3 / weightb=1 / open_gop=1 / weightp=1 / keyint=24 / keyint_min=1 /
scenecut=40 / intra_refresh=0 / rc_lookahead=24 / rc=2pass / mbtree=1 / bitrate=28229 /
ratetol=1.0 / qcomp=0.60 / qpmin=0 / qpmax=69 / qpstep=4 / cplxblur=20.0 / qblur=0.5 /
vbv_maxrate=31600 / vbv_bufsize=30000 / nal_hrd=vbr / filler=0 / ip_ratio=1.40 / aq=1:0.60

x264 10-bit encoding settings (pass 1 & pass 2), 2.5Mbit example:

--fps 24000/1001 --preset veryslow --tune animation --open-gop --b-adapt 2 --b-pyramid normal -f -2:0
--bitrate 2500 --aq-mode 1 -p 1 --slow-firstpass --stats v.stats -t 2 --no-fast-pskip --cqm flat
--non-deterministic

--fps 24000/1001 --preset veryslow --tune animation --open-gop --b-adapt 2 --b-pyramid normal -f -2:0
--bitrate 2500 --aq-mode 1 -p 2 --stats v.stats -t 2 --no-fast-pskip --cqm flat --non-deterministic

x265 10-bit encoding settings (pass 1 & pass 2), 2.5Mbit example:

--y4m -D 10 --fps 24000/1001 -p veryslow --open-gop --bframes 16 --b-pyramid --bitrate 2500 --rect
--amp --aq-mode 3 --no-sao --qcomp 0.75 --no-strong-intra-smoothing --psy-rd 1.6 --psy-rdoq 5.0
--rdoq-level 1 --tu-inter-depth 4 --tu-intra-depth 4 --ctu 32 --max-tu-size 16 --pass 1
--slow-firstpass --stats v.stats --sar 1 --range full

--y4m -D 10 --fps 24000/1001 -p veryslow --open-gop --bframes 16 --b-pyramid --bitrate 2500 --rect
--amp --aq-mode 3 --no-sao --qcomp 0.75 --no-strong-intra-smoothing --psy-rd 1.6 --psy-rdoq 5.0
--rdoq-level 1 --tu-inter-depth 4 --tu-intra-depth 4 --ctu 32 --max-tu-size 16 --pass 2
--stats v.stats --sar 1 --range full

Since x265 can only read raw YUV and Y4M, the source video is being fed to it via [libavs’] avconv tool, piping it into x265. The avconv commandline for that looks as follows:

$ avconv -r 24000/1001 -i input.h264 -f yuv4mpegpipe -pix_fmt yuv420p -r 24000/1001 - 2>/dev/null

If you want to do something similar, but you don’t like avconv, you can use [ffmpeg] as a replacement, the options are completely the same. Note that you should always specify the correct frame rates (-r) for input and output, or the bitrate setting of the encoder will be applied wrongly!

x264 on the other hand was linked against libav directly, using its decoding capabilities without any workarounds.

Let’s compare:

“The Garden of Words” has a lot of rain. This is a central story element of the 46 minute movie, and it’s hard on any encoder, because a lot of stuff is moving on screen all the time. Let’s take a look at such a scene for our first side-by-side comparison. Each comparison is done in two rows: H.264/AVC first (including the source material), and below that H.265/HEVC, also including the source.

Let’s go:

Scene 1, H.264/AVC encoded by x264 0.148.x:

Scene 1, H.265/HEVC encoded by x265 1.9+15-425b583f25db:

It has been said that x265 performs specifically well at two things: Very high resolutions (which we don’t have here) and low bitrates. And yep, it shows. When comparing the 1Mbit shots, it becomes clear pretty quickly that x265 manages to preserve more detail for the parts with lots of motion. x264 on the other hand starts to wash out the scene pretty severely, smearing out some raindrops, spray water and parts of the foliage. Also, it’s pretty bad around the outlines as well, but that’s true for both encoders. You can spot that easily with all the aliasing artifacts on the raindrops.

Moving up a notch, it becomes very hard to distinguish between the two. When zooming in you can still spot a few minor differences (note the kids umbrella, even if it’s not marked), but it’s quite negligible. Here I’m already starting to think x265 might not be worth it in all cases. There are still differences between the two 2.5Mbit shots and the original however, see the red areas of the umbrella and the most low-contrast, dark parts of the foliage.

At 5Mbit, I really can’t see any difference anymore. Maybe the colors are a little off or something, but when seen in motion, distinguishing between the two and the original becomes virtually impossible. Given that we just threw a really difficult scene at x264 and x265, this should be a trend to continue throughout the whole test.

Now, even more rain:

Scene 2, H.264/AVC encoded by x264 0.148.x:

Scene 2, H.265/HEVC encoded by x265 1.9+15-425b583f25db:

Now this is extreme at 1Mbit! Looking at H.264, the spray water on top of the cable can’t even be told apart from the cloud in the background anymore. Detail loss all over the scene is catastrophic in comparison to the original. Tons of raindrops are simply gone entirely, and the texture details on the tower and the angled brick wall of the house to the left? Almost completely washed out and smeared.

Now, let’s look at H.265 @ 1Mbit. The spray water is also pretty bad, but it’s amazing how much more detail was preserved overall. Sure, there are still parts of the raindrops missing, but it’s much, much closer to the original. We can now see details on the walls as well, even the steep angle one on the left. The only serious issue is the red light bleeding at the tower. There is very little red there in the original, so I’m not sure what happened there. x264 does this as well, but x265 is a bit worse.

At the next level, the differences are less pronounced again, but there is still a significant enough improvement when going from x264 to x265 at 2.5Mbit: The spray water on the cable becomes more well-defined, and more rain is being preserved. Also, the textures on the walls are a tiny little bit more detailed and crisp. Once again though, x265 is bleeding too much red light at the tower.

Since it’s noticeably not fully on the level of the source still, let’s look at 5Mbit briefly. x265 is able to preserve a tiny little bit more rain detail here, coming extremely close to the original. In motion, you can’t really see the difference however.

Now, let’s get steamy:

Scene 3, H.264/AVC encoded by x264 0.148.x:

Scene 3, H.265/HEVC encoded by x265 1.9+15-425b583f25db:

1Mbit first again: Let me just say: It’s ugly. x264 pretty much messes up the steam coming from the iron. We get lots of block artifacts now. Some of the low-contrast patterns on the ironing board are being smeared out at a pretty terrible level. Also, the bokeh background partly shows block artifacts and banding. x265 produces quite a lot of banding here itself, but no blocks. Also, outlines and sharp contrasts are more well-defined, and the low contrast part is done noticeably better.

At 2.5Mbit, the patterns repeat themselves now. The steam is only slightly better with x265, outlines are slightly more well-defined, and the low-contrast patterns are slightly more visible. For some of the blurred parts, x265 seems to be a tiny little bit to prone to banding though, in a very few spots, x264 might be just that 1% better. Overall however, x265 wins this, and even if it’s just for the better outlines.

At 5Mbit, you really need to zoom in and analyze very small details, e.g. around the outer border of the steam. Yes, x265 does better again. But you’d not really be able to notice this when watching.

How about we go cry a little bit:

Scene 4, H.264/AVC encoded by x264 0.148.x:

Scene 4, H.265/HEVC encoded by x265 1.9+15-425b583f25db:

Cutting onions would be a classic fun part in a slice-of-life anime. Here, it’s just kitchen work. And quite the bad looking one for H.264 at 1Mbit. The letters on the knife are partly lost completely, becoming unreadable. The onion parts that fly off are visibly worse than when encoded with x265 at the same bitrate. Also, x264 produced block artifacts in the blurred bokeh areas again, that simply aren’t there with x265.

On the next level, the two come much closer to each other. However, x265 simply does the outlines better. Less artifacts and sharper, just like with the writing on the knifes’ blade as well. The issues with the bokeh are nearly gone. What’s left is a negligible amount of blocking for x264 and banding for x265. Not really noticeable however.

Finally, at 5Mbit, x265 shows those ever so slightly more well-done outlines. But that’s about it, the rest looks nice for both, and pretty much identical to the source.

Now, please, dig in:

Scene 5, H.264/AVC encoded by x264 0.148.x:

Scene 5, H.265/HEVC encoded by x265 1.9+15-425b583f25db:

Let’s keep this short: x264 does blocking, and bad transitions/outlines. x265 does it better. Plain and simple.

At 2.5Mbit, x265 nearly reaches quality transparency when compared to the original, something x264 falls short of, just a bit. While x265 does the outlines and the steam part quite like in the original frame, x264 rips the outlines apart a bit too much, and slight block artifacts can again be seen for the steam part.

At 5Mbit, x264 still shows some blocking artifacts in a part that most lossy image/video compression algorithms traditionally suck at: The reds. While not true for all human beings, most eyes perceive much finer gradients for greens, then blues, and do worst with reds. Meaning, our eyes have an unequal sensitivity distribution when it comes to colors. So image and video codecs try to save bitrate in the reds first, because supposedly it’d be less noticeable. To me subjectively, x265 achieves transparency here, meaning it looks just like the original. x264 doesn’t manage entirely. Close, but not not entirely.

Next:

Scene 6, H.264/AVC encoded by x264 0.148.x:

Scene 6, H.265/HEVC encoded by x265 1.9+15-425b583f25db:

This is a highly static scene, with only few moving parts, so there is some rain again, and some shadow cast by raindrops as well. Now, for the static parts, incremental B frames really work wonders here. Most detail is being preserved by both encoders. What’s supposed to be happening is happening: The encoders save bit rate where the human eye can’t easily tell: In the parts where stuff is moving around very quickly. That’s how we lose a lot of raindrop shadows and some drops as well. x264 seems to have trouble separating the scene into even smaller macro blocks though? Not sure if that’s the reason, but a lot of mesh detail for the basket on the balcony on the top right is lost – x265 does better there! This is maybe because x264 couldn’t distinct the moving drops from the static background so well anymore?

At 2.5Mbit, the scenes become almost indistinguishable. The more static content we have, the easier it gets of course, so the transparency threshold becomes lower. And if you ask me, both of them reach perfect quality at 5Mbit.

Let’s throw another hard one at them for the last round:

Scene 7, H.264/AVC encoded by x264 0.148.x:

Scene 7, H.265/HEVC encoded by x265 1.9+15-425b583f25db:

Enough rain already? Pffh! Here we have a lot of foliage and low contrast added to the mix. And it gets smeared a lot by x264, rain detail lost, fine details of the bushes turning into green mud, that’s how it goes. x265 also loses too much detail here (I mean, 1Mbit is really NOT much), but again, it fares quite a bit better.

At 2.5Mbit, both encoders do very well. Somehow, this scene doesn’t seem to penalize x264 that much at the medium level. You’d really need your magnifying glass to find the spots where x265 still does better, which surprises me a bit for this scene. And finally, at 5Mbit – if you ask me – visual transparency is reached for both x264 and x265.

Final thoughts:

Clearly it’s true what a lot of people have been saying. x265 rocks at low bitrates, if configured correctly. But that isn’t gonna give me perfect quality or anything. Yeah, it sucks less – much less – than x264 in that department, but at a higher 2.5Mbit, where both start looking quite decent, x265 having just a slight edge… it becomes hardly justifiable to use it, simply because it’s that much slower to run it at decent settings.

Also, you need to take device compatibility into account. Sure, a powerful PC can always play the stuff. No matter if it’s some UNIX, Linux, MacOS X or Windows. But how about video game consoles? Older TVs? That kind of thing. Most of those can only play H.264/AVC. Or course, if you’re only using your PC and you have a lot of time and electricity to burn, then hey – why not?

But I’ll have to think really long and really hard about whether I want to replace x264 with x265 at this given point in time. Overall, it might not be practical enough on my current hardware yet. Maybe I’d need an AVX/AVX2-capable processor, as x265 has tons of optimizations for those instruction set extensions. But I’m gonna stay on my Xeon X5690 for quite a while, so SSE 4.2 is the latest I have.

I’d say, if you can stand some quality degradation, then x265 might be the way to go, as it can give you much smaller file sizes at lower bitrates with slight degradation.

If you’re aiming for high bitrates and quality, it might not be worth it right now, at least for 1080p. It’s been said the tables are turning once more when going up to 4K and UHD, but I haven’t tested that yet, as all my content – both Anime and live action movies – are “low resolution” *cough* 1080p or 720p.

Addendum:

Screenshots were taken using the latest stable mplayer 1.3.0 on Linux. Thank god they’re bundling it with ffmpeg now, making things much easier. This choice was made because mplayer can easily grab screenshots from specific spots in a video in an automated fashion. I used framesteps for this, like this:

$ mplayer ./TEST-H.265/HEVC-1mbit.mkv -nosound -vf framestep=24 \
 -vo png:z=9:outdir=./screenshots/1mbit/H.265/HEVC/:prefix=H.265/HEVC-1mbit-

This will decode every 24th frame of the video file TEST-H.265/HEVC-1mbit.mkv, and grab it into a .png file with maximum lossless compression as supported by mplayer. The .png files will be prefixed with a user-defined string and numbered, like H.265/HEVC-1mbit-00000001.pngH.265/HEVC-1mbit-00000002.png and so on, until the end of file is reached.

To encode the full size screenshots to WebP, the most recent [libwebp-0.5.0], or rather one of its companion tools – cwebp – was used as follows:

$ cwebp -z 9 -lossless -q 100 -noalpha -mt ./input.png -o ./output.webp

Now… somebody wanna grant me remote access to some quad socket Haswell-EX Xeon box for free?

No?

Meh… :roll: