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Wednesday, February 21, 2001
MPEG-4's role unclear in streaming-media era

"...MPEG-4 stands at ground zero in a contentious standards debate. At the dawn of streaming media, the embryonic standard is variously seen as a key enabler for tomorrow's multimedia cell phones and systems or as part "science fiction," as one chip executive put it.

Talk of MPEG-4 is everywhere, from this week's 3GSM World Congress in Cannes, France, where wireless-media companies will promote MPEG-4-compliant solutions delivering audio, video and multimedia applications, to the first quarterly meeting of the Internet Streaming Media Alliance earlier this month, where 75 vendors discussed ways to drive MPEG-4 forward for streaming media on the Web.

And Swisscom Mobile, Switzerland's leading telecommunications network carrier, this week will announce its first field trial of MPEG-4 wirelesss-multimedia services over its advanced General Packet Radio Service network, using PacketVideo Corp.'s PVPlatform 2.0. The authoring tools, and server and handset software, equip phones to decode MPEG-4 multimedia streams. The debate leaves silicon vendors at sea over how, when or whether to support MPEG-4, as they struggle to pinpoint the killer subset of a standard that some see as too all-embracing.

MPEG-4's chief features include highly efficient compression, error resilience, bandwidth scalability ranging from 5 kbits to 20 Mbits/second, network and transport-protocol independence, content security and object-based interactivity, or the ability to pluck a lone image — say, the carrot Bugs Bunny is about to chomp — out of a video scene and move it around independently.

MPEG-4's lure is all the tools it supplies for doing neat tricks with mixed media. For starters, it makes it possible for the first time to snip an object of any shape — not just rectangles — out of movies, cartoons and computer animations, and move them around at will. You could give Bugs' carrot to Elmer Fudd if you liked, for example. Moreover, when the network gets congested, the MPEG-4 video stream becomes scalable, since it treats the frame as an object and can drop frames as needed..."

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