The Windows 10 Fall Creators Update (FCU) came with a host of welcome changes. One of the aspects that didn't get much coverage in the tech press was the change in Microsoft's approach to the bundled video decoders. There had been complaints regarding the missing HEVC decoder when the FCU was in the Insider Preview stage. It turned out to be even more puzzling when FCU was released to the stable ring. This has led to plenty of erroneous speculation in the user community. We reached out to Microsoft to clear things up.

The missing HEVC decoder is not a factor for users playing back media through open source applications such as Kodi, MPC-HC, or VLC. However, users of the Movies and TV app built into Windows 10 FCU or software relying on the OS decoders such as Plex will find HEVC videos playing back with a blank screen. While this is a minor inconvenience at best, a more irritating issue is the one for users with systems capable of Netflix 4K playback. Instead of 4K, FCU restricts them to 1080p streams at 5.8 Mbps (as those are encoded in AVC).

Netflix Stream Capped at 1080p / 5.8 Mbps on the ASRock Beebox-S 7200U with the Windows 10 FCU

We initially believed patent licensing to be the issue. While the exact royalty terms for the HEVC playback capability in Windows 10 remain a closely guarded secret, MultiCoreWare's Tom Vaughan believes that the licensing for systems with a hardware decoder available is handled by the device OEM. However, the onus shifts to Microsoft for a pure software decoder bundled with the OS.

On reaching out to Microsoft, a spokesperson gave us the following quote: “With the Fall Creators Update, we changed our approach to media codecs to enable us to get more codecs to consumers faster and give device makers more flexibility via a new approach called Codec Packs. The HEVC hardware codec has been converted to a Codec Pack and will be soon available to all devices running the FCU.”

We then explicitly asked them if the decision to go the codec pack route was dictated by patent royalty issues. The exact quote we received was: “Customers who upgrade to the FCU on compatible hardware will get HEVC. For new devices that do not include HEVC, it will be available soon through the Microsoft Store. It may take a day or two after the upgrade to FCU for the codec to get installed.”

Based on these comments, we believe that there are no changes to the user in terms of the cost of the Windows 10 HEVC decoder (particularly given the automatic rollout indicated by the Microsoft spokesperson). We do note that Microsoft refused to comment on the royalty issue outright, but, almost all modern systems come with a hardware decoder and the Windows 10 HEVC codec is going to remain free for those systems.

Users who do not want to wait for the update to rollout into their system can install the HEVC Video Extension app from the Microsoft store.

The HEVC Video Extension App in the Microsoft Store

After upgrading to the FCU on our ASRock Beebox-S 7200U sample, we found that the Netflix 4K capability went missing (see earlier screenshot). However, after installing the HEVC Video Extension, we were able to stream the 4K versions of various titles.

Netflix 4K Stream (2160p / 16 Mbps) on the ASRock Beebox-S 7200U with the Windows 10 FCU and HEVC Video Extension App Installed

Note that any Win 10 FCU system with a hardware HEVC decoder is affected by this issue. This includes systems making use of a NVIDIA GPU for Netflix 4K capabilities also.

The change in approach slightly changes Microsoft's current tightly coupled approach to video decoders. As new video codecs like AV1 become stable and mainstream, the new architecture allows Microsoft to bring it to their customers in a quick and efficient manner.

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  • speculatrix - Saturday, December 9, 2017 - link

    Fixed, but the broken version lives on in my rss feed :-)
  • Hurr Durr - Friday, December 1, 2017 - link

    So that's what it was downloading regularly for a week.
  • leo_sk - Friday, December 1, 2017 - link

    Is there any chance if an open source standard (looking at av1) can become mainstream?
  • Ryan Smith - Friday, December 1, 2017 - link

    Given all of the licensing difficulties of HEVC, yes, there's a good possibility. The membership roster of the AV1 org is a who's who of tech companies.
  • brucethemoose - Friday, December 1, 2017 - link

    I'd say it's almost certain.

    Apparently, MPEG is so bad that MANY big tech companies decided it's cheaper to engineer around patents than pay for them. Some of them did so independently, noticed other efforts, then came together, hence AV1 was born as a giant "screw you MPEG!".

    Point is, unlike other efforts you may have seen fizzle out, there's alot of money behind AV1.
  • saratoga4 - Friday, December 1, 2017 - link

    Very possible that AV1 will succeed in replacing HEVC. The patent situation has made HEVC radioactive, and the industry is already looking at successors. By the time HEVC is sorted out (if it ever is), it may already be obsolete.
  • Alexvrb - Friday, December 1, 2017 - link

    Indeed. VP9 wasn't quite good enough to supplant HEVC. AV1 on the other hand (derived from VP10 plus some bits from Daala and Thor) looks to be shaping up as good or better than HEVC. Plus of course royalty free.

    Unfortunately it's not ready for prime time, I don't even think they have the bitstream locked down. But once they do get things finalized it should move faster than previous efforts, given the wide support.
  • colonelclaw - Friday, December 1, 2017 - link

    Call me paranoid, but this move *might* be setting the stage for a later move to start charging for the codec. Micro-transactions in an OS, whatever next?
  • Ian Cutress - Friday, December 1, 2017 - link

    They're called apps ;)
  • Valantar - Friday, December 1, 2017 - link

    Yep, and they've been around since... you could install apps on your OS, I suppose. So, the '80s?' 70s? Didn't use to be anything "micro" about the prices though. Freeware, open software and the mobile markets have changed that, for sure.

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