NEC builds world's first mobile MPEG-4 codec

Deeming current audio and video compression technologies too slow and power-hungry for the mobile age, NEC has developed a device that can bring high-quality video to next-generation cellular phones.

The MPEG-4 (Moving Pictures Expert Group, Layer 4) codec (coding and decoding) device can compress audio and video data enough to be transmitted between mobile devices supporting data transfer rates between 64K bits per second (bps) and 128K bps, according to Seiji Sakai, a spokesman at the Tokyo-based company.

NEC said the device is the world's first MPEG-4 codec for use in networked mobile products like cellular phones.

MPEG-4 compresses video by storing the changes between frames, not the entire frame itself. Although MPEG-4 is still an emerging technology, a number of Japanese manufacturers are turning toward the standard for digital video devices.

Mobile products equipped with NEC's codec will be able to display 10 to 15 frames per second of image data on a screen up to 176 pixels x 144 pixels, while consuming 94 milliwatts of power. The company claims that the device therefore has half the power usage and double the compression performance of current technologies.

NEC's device has the added capability of transmitting picture and sound data in periodic cycles, enabling data errors to be corrected as images are transmitted, the company said.

Although NEC has not determined what products the codec will be built into, Sakai said that car navigation systems, Internet-connected digital video cameras, and mobile video phones are the most likely contenders.

NEC said that it must further miniaturise the codec before it begins rolling out products, which the Japanese vendor expects to ship by 2001. The company will also most likely sell the device to other vendors for use in their products, according to Sakai.

The NEC spokesman would not say how much the device will cost.

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