Video board approves Apple-supported codecs

The Digital Video Broadcasting Steering Board (DVB) has approved a revision to its implementation guidelines for audio and video codecs over a broadcast Transport Stream. The revision includes two technologies supported by Apple Computer Inc., H.264 or Advanced Video Codec (AVC) and High Efficiency AAC (HE-AAC) audio codecs.

AVC and AAC are codecs supported by MPEG-4, an open standard technology based on the QuickTime file format and adopted by the ISO governing body.

"The investment we made in the MPEG-4 standard is paying off incredible dividends for QuickTime and for Apple," Frank Casanova, Apple's director of QuickTime product marketing, told MacCentral. "Allowing the ISO the use our file format has turned out to be the best decisions we could have made."

AVC was discussed less than a year ago as an up-and-coming codec, but in recent months the technology has gained traction being ratified for the HD-DVD and Blu-Ray specs -- the two new standards for high definition content on DVDs.

"AVC is clearly the chosen direction, which comes as no surprise to me because interoperability across any industry is important," said Casanova. "Any proprietary technology would naturally get shutout where interoperability and openness is required. MPEG-4 provides a level of openness and compatibility that all of these different industries from 3G to HD all require."

In addition to the ratification by DVB, AVC has received the nod from the MPEG-4 group, the 3GGP group and the Association of Japanese Broadcasters. While worldwide support for the technology has been quick, the United States broadcasters have yet to ratify AVC, except for use in HD-DVD and Blu-Ray. With the benefits the technology brings to broadcasters, Apple thinks it's just a matter of time.

"The broadcasters in the U.S. haven't mad a final decision about what technologies they will use, but I think it's just a matter of time," said Casanova. "Japan and the European community have gone forward and I have no doubt that as the broadcast communities here in the U.S. decide how to make the most effective use of the bandwidth available, they will chose AVC. It makes good business sense -- it saves them bandwidth and at the same time gives them more programming flexibility."

With its ability to encode content for so many mediums, Casanova sees uses for AVC in many of the everyday things we do today, including DVD movies, Cable television providers, on-demand television in hotels and next-generation cellular telephones. For example, with AVC, DVD content authoring houses could use the same size DVD disk, but output the content in HD quality.

"Cable providers will be able to encode their content at HD quality and send it down the wire at the same data rate as MPEG-2, yet get much better quality," said Casanova.

As with MPEG-4 itself, AVC is an open standard, which means that many different companies contribute to the process of evolving the codec into something the public sees on their computer or television.

"This is a technology that we've been intimately involved with for a while -- everybody, including Apple is very excited about this. It's about interoperability, standards and openness -- something we've been all about across QuickTime and much of Apple for a long time."

Competition from Microsoft

Microsoft Corp. is touting its Windows Media Player 9 format as competition for AVC, but Casanova sees several reasons that AVC will win out in the end, not the least of which is performance.

"Windows Media 9 is a few years old and it's evolved a few times," said Casanova. "AVC is brand new -- it's just at the very beginning of its quality and optimization curves. This puts us in an incredible advantage from a competitive standpoint because Windows Media has likely had most of its optimizations and performance wrung out of it already by Microsoft's engineers and we're just getting started."

Microsoft has submitted the Windows Media 9 format to the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers as a standard, but unlike an open standard, only Microsoft can make changes and enhancements to the Windows Media format. With an open standard like AVC, all member companies contribute to the technology.

"We feel so confident about this technology against the competition [Windows Media 9]," said Casanova. "We have no concerns at all -- we are thrilled with it from a video standpoint and certainly I couldn't be happier from a worldwide industry adoption perspective."

Apple has long preached the benefits of using and promoting open standards in its software. It is the interoperability of these standards that Apple believes will lead AVC to continue to be adopted in the future.

"The DVB selection of AVC is just one more example of where the world is insisting on open standards," said Casanova. "It doesn't matter if you're a cell phone manufacturer, broadcaster or producer of HD decoded video, interoperability counts. AVC is being ratified into relevancy by all of these standards organizations and Apple is right there.

"In this world of 'my codec is better than yours' -- this codec is better," said Casanova.

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