The Impact Of MPEG-4

The Impact Of MPEG-4

At the MPEG Vancouver meeting in July 1999 it was realised that, while interest in MPEG-4 remained high and diffuse, apparently there was no industry or company that was willing to take on the role that Cable Labs had taken for MPEG-2, a result of the truly generic nature of the MPEG-4 standard. It was then found necessary to make another step to help kickstart MPEG-4 adoption in the marketplace. Rob Koenen, the Requirements Chair, took the task on himself and, starting from the brainstorming session at the Vancouver meeting, he led the discussions among interested people that eventually led to the establishment of the MPEG-4 Industry Forum (M4IF), again c/o Me Jacquemmoud in Geneva, in May 2000 with the goal

to further the adoption of the MPEG-4 Standard, by establishing MPEG-4 as an accepted and widely used standard among application developers, service providers, content creators and end users.

I was one of those signing the statutes (the others were Rob Koenen and Takuyo Kogure), but decided that this time I would take no official role and be just a supporter of the initiative from the outside.

At the Maui, HI meeting, the Saturday after the MPEG meeting in December 1999, M4IF kicked off the activity that eventually led to the licensing of MPEG-4 Video, Systems and Audio (in the order of publication). Working Groups were set up to discuss how an effective licensing environment could be created.

At the Amsterdam meeting in March 2000, the Saturday after the MPEG meeting in Noordwijkerhout, the M4IF Statutes (again an adaptation of the DAVIC Statutes) were approved and an announcement was issued that a patent pool would be initiated, inviting those who believed they held essential patents to submit their claims to an evaluator. At the July 2000 meeting in Newark, work on self certification and M4IF Logo procedures was initiated. At the Paris meeting in October the first discussions on interoperability tests between products were made.

While MPEG-4 was being developed, the world was living through one of its greatest – and bloodless – revolutions. The ability to send email and post HTML pages triggered the demand for ever-increasing transmission bitrates made possible by faster telephony modems, ISDN, ADSL and Cable Modem. When the bitrate began to reach a few tens of kbit/s, it began possible to start offering some audio and video in streaming mode, albeit with a reduced picture size. Some of the companies that first tried this have created a strong brand. At the end of 2000 a new industry consortium called Internet Streaming Media Association (ISMA) was established with the goal

to accelerate the adoption of open standards for streaming rich media – video, audio, and associated data – over the Internet.

Pretty soon MPEG LA took over the MPEG-4 Visual licensing and eventually produced a licensing scheme. The licence is quite elaborate and this page cannot represent all the legal subtleties. Roughly the licence distinguishes between licensing encoders and decoders and licensing of encoders and decoders use.

Encoders and decoders
Encoder and decoder use
  • Right to use by an end user only for encoding/decoding video transmitted to/by another end user
  • 0.25 $ per unit
    • annual cap of 1M$
    • no charge on first 50k$ units/year
  • Royalty: functioning product
  • Licensee: functioning product manufacturer
  • Options
    • 0.25$/subscriber subject to 1M$ annual cap or
    • 0.02$/hour subject to 1M$ annual cap or
    • Paid-up 1M$ annual license (w/o reporting)
  • First 50k$ subscribers/year = no charge
  • Royalty: only when content is offered for remuneration
  • Licensee: video provider to end-user

Again those interested in the actual access to MPEG-4 licensing should consult the licence. It can be seen that traditional device-based business models are well supported – and with a reduction of an order of magnitude of the unit fee. However, the licence includes new content streaming models with royalties based on the time paid-for content is streamed. This scheme was widely objected to and contributed to the sporadic use of MPEG-4 Visual for paid-for streaming services as opposed to other proprietary streaming services.

In the meantime the mobile telco industry was getting ready for a major overhaul of the service offer that was to be based on so-called Third Generation (3G) mobile. An international consortium called 3rd Generation Partnership Program (3GPP) was established that developed all the specifications needed. A parallel but formally unrelated group called 3GPP-2 has also been established with a similar objective.

Dolby enlarged its original MPEG-2 AAC licence to include MPEG-4 AAC.

MPEG-4 has played an important role in the new environment created by the two main forces that drove the development of the standard: digital networks and IT:

  • The World DMB Forum uses a profile of BIFS as composition technology to add other media to digital radio.
  • DivX, a company started by two French students, developed effective MPEG-4 Visual encoders and decoders that can be freely downloaded from the web. Audio is typically MP3. The company eventually developed a business model based on licensing MPEG-4 Visual implementations whose conformance had been tested by the company.
  • Several versions of AAC are also in 3G cellphones to enjoy various forms of audio services.
  • Apple selected AAC for its iTune service and MPEG-4
  • AAC is also used in two digital radio services, XM and Digital Radio Mondiale (DRM) that are different from DAB.
  • The MPEG File Format is universally adopted: 3G cellphones have mobile person-to-person video communication and with the additional capability to capture, download and play, stream and store (MPEG-4 File Format)
  • 3GPP adopted and slightly changed the MP4 file format. This format is also supported by 3G cellphones.
  • Open Font Format is widely used by the industry.