The GoPro HERO9 Black has two video codecs available for recording video: HEVC (H.265) and AVC (H.264). Both of these produce files with a .mp4 extension, so you can’t tell them apart just by looking at the filenames. The difference is in how the video is compressed and encoded. One is newer, more efficient, potentially higher quality, and less compatible. The other is older, much more compatible, and less efficient. Here’s a quick rundown of how they’re used on the HERO9 Black and which to choose when.
H.264 is an older but extremely widely compatible compression algorithm. This is the codec used on older GoPros, and it has been extremely widely used online for several years, everywhere from YouTube to DailyMotion to Vimeo. It’s stable and reliable.
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There’s also a newer codec that’s gaining in usage and popularity. It’s most commonly known as HEVC (for High-Efficiency Video Coding). Less commonly, it’s also known as H.265. It’s a newer, better codec, but it’s still not yet as widely compatible in the same way the older H.264 codec is. (If you’re having trouble with the HEVC files, first try the GoPro Player desktop app. I’ve posted another workaround here.)
On the HERO9 Black, you have some choices when it comes to using HEVC or H.264. You don’t get that choice with every combination of resolution and framerate—some, like 5K30, are only available with the newer, better HEVC codec. But with others, you can choose between using settings for HEVC or H.264 + HEVC.
You can find this setting under:
Preferences > General > Video Compression
The two options are:
- H.264 + HEVC
(Note that if you’re using the GoPro mobile app, these show up in the Video Compression option as “High Efficiency” and “Most Compatible”. The H.264 + HEVC is the same as the “Most Compatible” option.)
Things Worth Knowing
The main reason I’m posting this is not so much just to point out that the HERO9 Black has these options available but because the way this option works isn’t quite as intuitive as it could be.
The first option is obvious enough: it will use HEVC for all video recordings. Pretty straightforward.
The second option isn’t quite as obvious. On most cameras, if you choose an option like RAW + JPG, the camera will record both simultaneously. That is, it’ll save two versions of the image, one in each format.
But on the GoPro HERO9 Black, choosing H.264 + HEVC won’t record two versions. What it will do is use H.264 for most of the video options. But with some of the high-end video modes, you can still only record them with the HEVC codec. If you’re recording 5K30, for instance, it will only record using the HEVC codec regardless of whether you’ve chosen the H.264 + HEVC option. So “H.264 + HEVC” doesn’t mean “H.264 and HEVC”; it means H.264 when available and HEVC when it’s not.
Which to Use When
The simplest and most compatible choice is the H.264 + HEVC option.
For potentially higher quality, the HEVC option offers a number of advantages related to its much more efficient encoding. Bitrate for bitrate, if you encode a video in both HEVC and H.264 using the same bitrate, the HEVC should result in better quality video (I’m qualifying this with “should” because there are other factors and settings that impact video quality.)1 The catch is that you might need to check on your computer’s compatibility with working with HEVC files. The best place to start is to install the GoPro Player desktop app.
- The maximum video bitrate used on the HERO9 Black is 100 Mbps. ↩