What is HEVC on GoPro Cameras? HEVC & H.264 Explained

Newer models of GoPro's flagship Black edition cameras can record video in HEVC or H.264. Here's an explanation of what those are and when to use them.
GoPro HERO9 Black Video Compression HEVC H.264
This post may include affiliate links.
Click here for more information.

Each of the Black editions since the GoPro HERO6 Black has used two video codecs: HEVC (H.265) and standard H.264 (AVC).

GoPro HERO10 Deals

GoPro has released the HERO10 Black. The MSRP is $499, but GoPro is currently running some great deals:

And with the new model out, it's a great time to pick up a deal on the HERO9 Black. You can get it for $349 with a free spare battery, a 32GB SD card, and a 1-year GoPro subscription. More details here.

All of the video files have the same file extension of .mp4, so you can’t tell them apart just by looking at the filename.

So what’s the difference, and what is HEVC, anyway?

The difference is in the codecs that are used to encode the video data within that mp4 container.

A video codec is basically the algorithm that’s used to compress the video and represent the visual imagery in digital form.

H.264

Understanding why HEVC exists is easier if we start with what it isn’t. And that is, it’s different from the way of encoding video that has gained wide acceptance over several years on the web.

That codec is known technically as H.264, and if you’ve watched anything on YouTube or streamed video pretty much anywhere, then you’ve watched H.264 video. It’s like the JPEG of video encoding–it’s everywhere and is extremely widely compatible. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a device or video service that can’t play H.264 files.

But it’s also quite old now, and there are newer, improved algorithms that can be used for more efficient encoding of video data.

HEVC / H.265

HEVC, which is less commonly known as H.265, is one of those newer, better codecs. It stands for high-efficiency video coding.

It’s more efficient than the older H.264, which means that it keeps a similar or better video quality for a smaller file size. And that makes for being less demanding of the transfer to the SD card, quicker transfer over the web, and less bandwidth required for streaming. All while maintaining similar image quality; as GoPro puts it: “roughly half the file size with equivalent image quality.” equivalent image quality. Keeping the JPG analogy, HEVC is analogous to the photo format HEIC that some newer smartphones save their files to.

GoPro first introduced HEVC to their cameras with the HERO6 Black, where it was used for some, but not all, of the video modes. The models since then have increased the use of HEVC while retaining some safety nets where you can still use H.264.

The catch with HEVC, at least for now, is that it’s not yet anywhere nearly as widely compatible. While the newest computers and devices can generally play them, devices even a few years old might be able to.

If you’d like to test whether your computer or device can play HEVC files, here’s a couple of short (15-second) video clips I shot with a HERO9 Black that you can use as test files. These were both encoded with HEVC in-camera:

(NB: Make sure to download them rather than open them in a browser tab. Many web browsers won’t play HEVC video directly.)

How GoPro Implements HEVC

The way GoPro has implemented the switchover between H.264 is a bit confusing. And I’m guessing that’s why you’re reading this in the first place. You’ve probably noticed the options for choosing HEVC or H.264 + HEVC. There’s no option to only use H.264. And the H.264 + HEVC setting doesn’t work quite as you might expect.

The first option is obvious enough: it will use HEVC for all video recordings. And if you’re working on computers and workflows that can work with HEVC files, this is probably the best option.

But if you’re running into compatibility issues, the second option–H.264 + HEVC–might be a better fit.

But the way it works isn’t quite as obvious. It doesn’t mean the same as a RAW + JPG option you often find on cameras, for example, where it records both formats simultaneously. If you choose the H.264 + HEVC setting, it won’t record two versions. What it will do is use H.264 for some of the video options and HEVC for the rest. But GoPro could do a much better job of making it clear when each is being used–a small status icon would be a good start. And it varies from model to model (more on this below).1

With the high-end video modes, you can still only record them with the HEVC codec. If you’re recording 4K60 or 5K video, 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 GoPro Video Modes Use HEVC and Which Use H.264?

With each new Black model, GoPro leans more heavily into HEVC. This means that there are fewer video modes for H.264.

I’ve put together a more detailed breakdown for each model of which video modes use HEVC and which have H.264 available. But here’s a summary version that shows the video modes for each mode where it will record in H.264 if you have the H.264 + HEVC option set. For all other combinations of resolution and framerate that are not listed here, it will record only in HEVC.

HERO10 Black

Resolution Framerate
4K 30
25
2.7K 60
50
1080p 120
100
60
50

More detailed version.

HERO9 Black

Resolution Framerate (fps)
4K 30
25
2.7K 60
50
1080p 120
100
60
50

More detailed version.

HERO8 Black

Resolution Framerate (fps)
4K 30
25
24
2.7K 60
50
30
25
24
2.7K 4:3 30
25
24
1440p 60
50
30
25
24
1080p 120
100
60
50
30
25
24

More detailed version.

HERO7 Black

Resolution Framerate (fps)
4K 30
25
24
2.7K 60
50
30
25
24
2.7K 4:3 30
25
24
1440p 60
50
30
25
24
1080p 120
100
60
50
30
25
24
960 120
100
720 240
200
60
50

More detailed version.

What to Do If You Can’t Open an HEVC Video File

HEVC compatibility can be confusing. It generally works with newer computers and devices, but it can be mixed with older ones. In some cases, you need the right combination of both the processor chip and the operating system. GoPro has put together this list of compatible devices.

Here are various options worth trying if you’re having trouble opening a GoPro HEVC file. The solution is going to vary by your computer/device setup and operating system.

  • Try the GoPro Quik desktop app. There are versions for Mac and Windows; you can find them here.
  • Convert the HEVC file to H.264 using HandBrake. It’s not ideal to be making a compressed derivative of an already compressed file, but it can be an effective way to be able to work with the file. Handbrake is free and cross-platform. I’ve put together a guide for the process here.
  • If you’re using Windows 10, you can try downloading and installing the HEVC codec. You can find it here. (Newer versions of macOS have HEVC support built in.) Note that even with the codec installed, older computers might struggle to play HEVC files smoothly.
  • Upload to the HEVC file to a video sharing service like YouTube or Vimeo. You can set it to private so that you’re not sharing it with the whole world. And yes, it’s a bit of a hassle to do, and it assumes you’ve got plenty of web bandwidth available, but the online services can convert from HEVC without breaking a sweat.

Things Worth Knowing

Something to be aware of when using the HEVC option is that the GoPro mobile app can’t preview HEVC files directly in playback. You’ll have to download the entire file to your phone or tablet and then try to play it back locally.

HEVC isn’t actually confined only to video. It’s a compression method that has broader use than than, and is also often used for HEIF still images such as those in the HEIC format on iPhones.


  1. Even more confusingly, when you shoot photos on a GoPro, you have a choice of JPG or RAW. If you choose JPG, it will save a single JPG. If you choose RAW, it will save both a RAW and a JPG. 
Newsletter //
On This Page //

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *