Start-up claims video compression breakthrough

A Silicon Valley start-up claims it has found a new approach to video compression that blows away the commonly used MPEG-2 standard and will allow transmission of broadcast-quality video over DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) connections.

Pulsent said on Monday that after four years of work it is ready to come out of stealth mode and show off technology that it claims provides a 400 percent improvement in bandwidth and storage efficiency over MPEG-2. The technique would allow TV-quality video to be transmitted over 1.1Mbps connections, according to a Pulsent statement.

Enhanced video compression could drive new services such as video on demand and allow DSL providers to compete with cable television providers.

The Milpitas, California-based start-up will preview its invention at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) event in Las Vegas next month. It faces tough competition even if it can deliver on its claims. Many of the companies it will have to persuade have already invested in other MPEG-2 successors, such as MPEG-4 and H.26L.

Key to Pulsent's technology is an object-based approach to video compression, as opposed to the block-based approach taken by MPEG-2, according to the company. Pulsent's way is to identify and model structural elements in a frame, instead of what it calls modeling of "arbitrary blocks." Pulsent claims its objects can be far more accurately modeled than arbitrary blocks.

MPEG-4, the first version of which was released in 1999, also takes an object-based approach to video compression and is now making its way into software and hardware products. Backers of MPEG-4 include Koninklijke Philips Electronics NV, Microsoft Corp., Apple Computer Inc., Cisco Systems Inc. and Sony Corp.

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Joris Evers

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