HEVC (H.265) is the new emerging video coding standard. It is made as a success for the widely used H.264. It's implementation and adoption progress is quite fast. It probably because the 4k display has been out for someitme and the video streaming is currently booming, both of which are being handled nicely by HEVC.
At the moment of this writing you can actually able to convert material to HEVC and playing it. The implementations are mostly still in beta stage and some are not avaiable through the more common publicized channel, but it's quite usable from my tests so far. The quality is quite good too in term of visual quality and compression ratio. So, you can already play around with the technology at this stage.
Conversion : x265 and Handbrake Nightly Build
x265 project probably is the most used HEVC converter right now. It has progressed quite far, below is the quote from the author on one of the forum :
x265 development is going well. x265 is often able to exceed the HM reference encoder in quality, with performance that is orders of magnitude faster. The x265 HEVC encoder is easily able to encode with quality / compression efficiency that far exceeds the best H.264 encoder available, x264. We've just passed the 0.7 milestone. Although we have more algorithmic improvement and performance optimization on the development roadmap ahead, x265 is quite usable today, and it includes many advanced features.
So, it is quite a safe bet to choose x265 project for HEVC encoding purpose. However, using it directly means using CLI which is cumbersome and would require manual demuxing and remuxing, so it’s better to use proper video conversion application.
There is no official release version of full-featured video converter that uses x265 yet. However, Handbrake-nightly-build already integrate x265 whitin. The developer said that they won’t be releasing it until HEVC standard more widely used which probably will still a while. So, you just have to use the nightly-build if you want to have access to HEVC conversion on Handbrake for sometime ahead.
Unfortunately, currently it only exist on Windows version of Handbrake. So, no support for other platform for now.
Now, about the playing.
VLC Nightly Build and Playing on Browser
The latest release version of VLC (2.1.4) can not play HEVC output in container (muxed) yet. It will complain when you try to play the file you encoded with Handbrake above. However, hevc playing support is currently progress and can be tested on VLC-nightly-build version (2.2.x). It works well playing output from Handbrake when tested.
Also, the good thing about VLC is that it has browser plugin support for Mozilla and Activex(IE) so it can be used to play HEVC content on the browser. It currently only support Windows though but the plan is to have it on other platforms when 2.2.x finally released. This would be interesting since it means you can now start streaming HEVC stream to wide range of targets.
Another alternative for the web/browser support for HEVC is DivX Web Player whichs seems to be free although not open source.