Phil Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Product Marketing gave a bittersweet keynote yesterday at the company’s QuickTime Live conference in Beverly Hills, CA. Once again proving wrong the “confirmed sources” reports of Mac Web sites that said Apple would release QuickTime 5.1, Schiller and company unveiled QuickTime 6.0 with support for MPEG-4.
Attendees that came to the show hoping for a public preview of the new QuickTime software left empty handed and disappointed. But that’s not because the software isn’t ready for the public, it’s because there are MPEG-4 licensing issues that must be resolved before the software can be released.
“We actually have a public preview we could have delivered to you today at the show,” Schiller said during his keynote address. “While it’s ready for release, we’re not going to deliver it today. It is delayed, not for technical reasons, but for licensing reasons.”
MPEG LA, the licensing body responsible for MPEG-4, has just released its proposed licensing structure for companies to use the file format. The problem is not with the amount that Apple would have to pay, totaling approximately US$2 million, but the amount of proposed content royalties MPEG LA wants to charge providers.
“When they came out with their MPEG-4 terms, we were surprised, because not only did they have the encode/decode royalties, but they had the use royalties — that’s what really concerned us,” Frank Casanova, Apple’s director of QuickTime product marketing, told MacCentral during an interview after the keynote. “We’re happy to pay, it’s worth paying for.”
MPEG LA is proposing a $0.02 per hour, per stream charge for providers of the QuickTime stream — if they are remunerated — in addition to the money they receive from Apple and other companies paying the codec royalties. The complications figuring out who is remunerated is complex in itself.
“We don’t think that’s right and a number of our customers have told us they’re not happy about this either,” Schiller said. “This is a nascent industry; we’re trying to kick it off, trying to get it started and we don’t need to put roadblocks in the way for people — this would be a major roadblock.”
Schiller then gave a feedback e-mail address to members of the conference to offer “constructive” feedback to the MPEG LA group about how we feel about the proposed licensing structure. “We encourage you all, as we are doing, to constructively provide commentary to this organization about the great success we are about to have if this best format has the best licensing format, too,” said Schiller.
“We don’t want to encumber our customers with a licensing model they’re not ready to accept yet,” said Schiller. “While there is still time — and there is — let’s change this and get it right, so we can move on.”
If you would like to offer your thoughts to MPEG LA on the proposed licensing structure and to help get QuickTime 6 in your hands, you can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We hope to get this done as soon as possible,” Schiller told MacCentral in an interview after his keynote.
QuickTime 6 also comes with an Apple-developed video codec for encoding and decoding MPEG-4 video content; support for Advanced Audio Coding (AAC), (“the next generation audio format,” according to Apple); support for CELP, the MPEG-4 speech codec for reproduction of natural speech; adherence to the Internet Streaming Media Alliance (ISMA, of which Apple is a member) 1.0 specification; MPEG-1 and MPEG-2 playback; Flash 5 support; and DVC Pro (PAL) support.
“I feel great about this product,” Schiller said. “We really delivered what we wanted to in QuickTime 6.”
Apple also announced the pending release of QuickTime Broadcaster, also delayed due to the MPEG LA licensing structure. QuickTime Broadcaster allows live broadcasting of events over the Internet.
Features of QuickTime Broadcaster include live encoding with real-time preview; the ability to record and hint in real-time to the computer’s hard disk for quick video-on-demand posting; support for all QuickTime codecs; AppleScript support; the ability to create custom settings; support for reliable communication via TCP between Broadcaster and Server; and auto configuration of the connection between the broadcaster and the server.
Depending on the number of people you want to send your stream to, Broadcaster can be used with Mac OS X client or combined with QuickTime Streaming Server and Mac OS X Server. You can even take it a step further and add a content distribution network such as Akamai to deliver the stream.
The last component of Apple’s announcements was QuickTime Streaming Server, the company’s free streaming media server.
The new iteration of the server software provides the ability to server ISO-compliant MPEG-4 files to any similarly compliant MPEG-4 client, including any MPEG-4 enabled device that supports playback of such content over IP.
“Skip protection” for MPEG-4 files is also now part of QTSS 4. The feature uses excess bandwidth to buffer data ahead faster than real-time on the client machine. That way, when packets are lost (or bandwidth dips), only the lost packets of information need to be retransmitted. This results in a smoother, higher quality stream.
Apple’s newly announced QuickTime Broadcaster will be available free of charge, as is QuickTime Streaming Server. Apple also makes available a free download of its QuickTime Player from its Web site — QuickTime Player 6 will presumably be released once the MPEG LA licensing issues are resolved.
“The fact we wanted to make it free is a testament to the fact we really want to see players, servers and broadcasters freely available to use,” Casanova said.
“This can be all done on Macs — it’s just cool,” said Casanova.