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MPEG-4 and Windows Media 9 square off at NAB2003

One of the most prominent issues at this year’s show was advanced video and multimedia coding. Once again, there was a huge swell in the number of demonstrations featuring video codecs more advanced than MPEG-2, the basic video coding engine for digital television.

A significant number of applications were on display using either MPEG-4 Part 2 (Simple and Advanced Simple profiles), MPEG-4 Part 10 (H.264/AVC) and Microsoft’s high profile Windows Media 9 format, which seemed to be giving the MPEG standards a serious run for its money. Many companies came out with announcements of products using Windows Media 9, including TANDBERG TV with its hardware WMV9 encoder implementation and the BBC who announced “a working relationship” with Microsoft.

Many in the industry have seen the Redmond Seattle company take a high profile at NAB before. In 1997 there was the ill-fated “DTV Team” proposal from Microsoft, Intel and Compaq. In 1998, much fuss was made about Microsoft’s acquisition of Softimage and WebTV. In recent years, it was the Microsoft TV interactive TV platform, which also seemed remarkably less present this year. Many commentators this year thought that Windows Media 9 would finally give the company the role in TV Broadcast technology which it so clearly is interested in and after such a long track record of proposals, quite possibly deserves.

Not to be outdone of course, the Microsoft WM9 presence seemed to be on a par with the widespread presence of MPEG-4 (of various flavors), and a key question was how well does the new ISO/ITU Advanced Video Codec (also known as H.264) square up with the proprietary technology from Microsoft.

Since this codec is actually only now being finalized, it will be some time before the industry will be able to make up its mind on the video coding performance. It’s a safe bet that IBC will feature more demonstrations of both alternatives.

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