Companies form MPEG venture in Japan

Seven companies will pour some of their broadcasting and technology abilities into a new joint venture to bring MPEG-4 interactive television technology to cable companies.

Based in Tokyo, e-BOX Corp. will be a collaborative effort between Pioneer Corp., Sharp Corp., National Semiconductor Corp., Sigma Designs Inc., CMC Magnetics Inc., iVAST Inc. and Modern VideoFilm Inc., the companies said in a joint statement Wednesday.

The MPEG-4 standard can compress video more efficiently than the MPEG-2 standard currently used by satellite and cable companies for transmitting television signals. An MPEG-4 television signal can be delivered at similar quality to MPEG-2 with less bandwidth, and can carry interactive features like a DVD.

However, potential licensees of the MPEG-4 standard have balked at terms offered by MPEG-LA LLC, a consortium of patent holders for the compression technology. The preliminary terms would require device manufacturers to pay US$0.25 for each MPEG-4 product such as a set-top box decoder or video encoder, with product fees capped at $1 million a year.

The product fees are less than those currently charged for MPEG-2, but the licensing terms also call for content producers to pay a fee of $0.02 per hour for each use of the standard.

If each of the 22 million subscribers Comcast Cable Communications Inc. expects to have after its merger with AT&T Corp.'s broadband division watch an average of five hours of television each day, Comcast would have to charge an extra $3 per month per subscriber to use the MPEG-4 standard, not counting the cost of implementing the service.

Apple Computer Inc. delayed the release of its QuickTime 6 and QuickTime Broadcaster software last month, in protest of the MPEG-4 licensing terms.

If MPEG-LA charges a fee for each of the hundreds of digital television channels available to a household, the cost would be prohibitive.

Though 2 cents may not sound like a lot, "times all those subscribers, times all those channels, times all those hours ... that math doesn't work, and I think everybody is aware of that," said Elliot Broadwin, chief executive officer of iVAST, an MPEG-4 content delivery company in Santa Clara, California.

Broadwin is convinced that the license holders will modify their licensing demands for broadcasters over time, he said.

"I don't know if there's going to be a cap or some other adjustment," he said. "It does impact us, there's no doubt."

Comcast seems to think that change is on the horizon as well, since it agreed to advise the joint venture partners on the technical requirements of the system and to test e-BOX's set-top boxes and cable facility equipment once it comes out of development some time next year.

Once in place, MPEG-4 will allow subscribers to interact with programs delivered over cable, pausing or rewinding them, downloading background data or soundtracks, or ordering video on demand, said Moshe Barkat, president of Modern VideoFilm, a Burbank, California, company providing post-production services and MPEG-4 compression and authoring for the joint venture. Cable companies will be able to earn additional revenue from these new services, justifying the relatively higher cost for using the standard, he said.

The joint venture has no plan to extend its efforts to Internet broadcasting, and it will incorporate antipiracy technology into its products, addressing one concern of the studios owning the content.

"The higher the image quality, the greater their concern about piracy," Barkat said.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?