With the standard now more or less solidified, MPEG-4 may finally be ready for commercial primetime in 2003. Thus, technology provider iVAST Inc. is headed to the National Association of Broadcasters convention this week armed with two new products it says will help content providers put the technology on the air.
The year 2002 saw MPEG-4 – the Moving Picture Experts Group multimedia standard that promises video quality comparable to MPEG-2, at roughly one-third of the bandwidth — was largely in demonstration mode.
"It's breaking out'
But with the approval of the standard's license-fee structure, content developers and software creators are now starting to come up with commercial applications, according to iVAST CEO Elliot Broadwin.
"This really is the year of commercialization for the technology — it's really breaking out of those early phases of demonstration," he said.
To further that drive, iVAST comes to NAB this week with its new Live Broadcast Encoder. The product can perform real-time encoding and can output the video in multicast or unicast formats, which would be ideal for broadcast backhaul or corporate training-and-educational streaming media applications, Broadwin said.
The other technology iVAST will be showing off at NAB is a transcoder system it is developing that can convert standard MPEG-2 video into MPEG-4.
The system, which is being developed with Tut Systems, will be able to translate up to 180 channels of video. A release date for the transcoder has yet to be announced.
It's one thing to encode content, the other crucial task is to present it at the other end. For that, iVAST also is working with Sigma Designs and National Semiconductor Corp. to create a set-top box reference design able to process both on demand and live feeds.
Sigma and National Semiconductor are partners along with iVAST in eBox Corp., a company set up in 2002 by a consortium of electronics and technology providers to create MPEG-4 cable systems.
Although the reference design has not been released, the digital box will be based on a Linux operating system and include a hard disk, with the ability to represent MPEG-2 and MPEG-4 video.
"There is a lot of interest and encouragement for us with this consortium to develop this technology," he said. "Part of it is some of the operators are concerned about the duopoly they have today and they would like to see some alternative."
But because of the legacy gear already embedded in cable systems and the market conditions, "I thing that market is going to move cautiously," Broadwin added.
Satellite operators are also very interested in the iVAST technology, but given the disruption the two major players have seen in the past year, there has not been as much movement on that front.
Broadwin said he expects that to change in the coming year.