High Efficiency Video Coding, commonly known as HEVC or H.265, is the current standard for compressing video. Most new content is encoded using HEVC – but it’s not included in Windows 11, and the codec usually costs money. Here’s how to get HEVC for free.
What is HEVC and why do I need it?
HEVC is a compression algorithm – it takes large, uncompressed (or minimally compressed) video files and a lot of Smaller, with only a slight drop in quality.
Compressing video files allows streaming services like Netflix or Hulu to send you video without completely blocking your internet connection or draining your data cap. It’s useful for things other than streaming services, though. For example, HEVC is used to compress huge files used during movie editing into files that can easily fit on a single Blu-ray disc.
related: What is HEVC H.265 video and why is it so important for 4K movies?
More handset makers are also adding support for HEVC. All newer Apple devices (such as iPhones and iPads) use HEVC to record video, and some Android devices (such as Google’s Pixel phones) can also use it. Compressing video recorded on your phone allows you to record tens or hundreds of hours of footage, whereas uncompressed or minimally compressed formats such as AVI allow only a few hours of footage before your device storage completely fills up .
Sadly, the required codecs aren’t installed on Windows 11 by default – you’ll need to install them manually, or use the included third-party media player.
Suffice to say, there are plenty of third-party apps that come bundled with the HEVC codec “out of the box”. One such app is VLC, an excellent all-around video player. To be on the safe side, you should only download VLC from its official website.
How to get HEVC codec on Windows 11?
If you’ve ever tried to open a video file encoded with HVEC on Windows 11 using one of the built-in apps, you may have received a pop-up prompting you to pay 99 cents to install the HEVC codec. The fees come from the complex licensing and royalties surrounding HEVC.
related: HEVC’s successor: what is the AV1 codec?
You can get the codec for free through the Microsoft Store, but you can’t find it using the search function. To get the free pack, copy and paste the following code into your web browser’s address bar and press Enter:
You may get a message warning you that the link is trying to open from an application on your computer – don’t worry, that’s exactly what you want. Go ahead and allow it, and you’ll see a Microsoft Store page open with an app called “HEVC Video Extensions from Device Manufacturers”. Click the Install button and wait for the app to download and install.
notes: If you haven’t installed the codec, the install button will be in the place of the “Open” button.
notes: This may not work on Windows 11 PCs outside the US, but it’s fine to try it.
Try your video file again. If all goes well, it should work fine on any of the default apps bundled with Windows 11. If it doesn’t work right away, try restarting your computer.
Microsoft may disable this feature in the future. We tested it and confirmed that it works in May 2022, but if you follow these instructions later and the link doesn’t work or the HEVC codec doesn’t work, it’s probably not what you did. Remember, you can always use a program like VLC, which comes with the HEVC codec by default.
HEVC’s successor, VCC (H.266), has also been formalized for a few years – we’re likely to see more content encoded with the standard soon, especially as 8K content starts to go mainstream. VCC’s licensing and royalty structure is designed to be less cumbersome than HEVC, so there’s reason to hope that we won’t be stuck using workarounds forever.
Using Windows 10? The same process works for installing the HEVC codec for free on Windows 10.
related: How to install the free HEVC codec (for H.265 video) on Windows 10