New MPEG-4 Co. Lands Comcast Trial


A fledgling company formed to develop MPEG-4-based video-on-demand systems
has tuned in Comcast Corp. as a joint-venture and system-trial partner.

e-BOX Corp. -- a Japanese company jointly formed by consumer-electronics and
technology companies Pioneer Electronics Corp., Sharp Electronics Corp.,
National Semiconductor Corp., Sigma Designs Inc., CMC Magnetics Corp., iVAST
Inc. and Modern VideoFilm Inc. -- is looking to create VOD and interactive-TV
systems based on the new video standard.

As a partner, Comcast will conduct field trials of that resulting delivery
system -- including headend gear, software, content-protection systems and
digital set-top boxes -- early next year.

Paul McCormick, senior marketing manager for National Semiconductor's
set-top-box group, said it is too early to set specifics of the trial, including
where it will be and how many users would be involved.

The newest in the Moving Picture Expert Group standards, MPEG-4 is the first
developed specifically for the Internet and interactive media. It promises three
to four times better compression ratios compared with MPEG-2 with equal video
quality, but it is more known for its interactive abilities.

MPEG-4 allows programmers to identify distinct objects within a content
frame, such as text set alongside video or the audio track attached to a video
file. In doing so, programmers can manipulate these elements separately and even
allow end-users to manipulate them in a two-way interactive setting.

'When it delivers video-on-demand or a movie that has been selected by the
subscriber, they don't just get the movie in the system -- they get a movie that
has the look and feel of DVD,' McCormick said.

'It has a menu, and it allows the viewer to look at additional content -- for
example, trailers or information about the stars in the movie -- in the same way
a DVD does today,' he added.

But developing a system to rival existing MPEG-2-delivery systems has its
challenges. McCormick said the economics of an MPEG-4 system are key, so e-BOX
has discussed equipment-cost and deployment-cost issues with Comcast.

'We've worked together with them with the business model, with the proposed
cost of the equipment and the set-top boxes,' McCormick said.

'We'vemade it quite clear to them that the cost for installation of
the equipment is easily justified when you look at the exotic services that can
be offered to subscribers,' he added, 'and also, it gives Comcast the ability to
get more subscription payments out of its customer base.'