CSIRO's future Web beats MP3s

CSIRO researchers are using a rival to MP3 as part of a new media format that they say will change the way we listen to, and watch, audio and video files.

Based on the Ogg container format, CSIRO is developing Annodex format media as part of its Continuous Media Web project. A project team is developing formats and software that will let users create hyperlinks for segments of media, so they can be identified and accessed directly, rather than sequentially.

Dr Silvia Pfeiffer, research scientist, CSIRO ICT Research Centre, said the Continuous Media Web is about enabling video surfing and searching in a Web environment.

"An example might be you [will be able to] send a URL to a friend for a part of a video clip that's five minutes in [to the clip]," she said.

Using the URL, the viewer would not need to watch or download the video prior to the five minute mark.

Another example was that the technology could be used to label passages within a family album of digitised video, Dr Pfeiffer said. This was recently used with the ABC's digital media, allowing journalists to search for specific video content via the ABC intranet.

Annodex uses Ogg's open source codecs for different media types, such as speech, video and metadata.

These codecs were developed by the Xiph.Org foundation, an Internet-based group that develops royalty free audio and video compression technologies.

The Ogg framing format encapsulates those codecs developed by Xiph.Org and used by CSIRO, which include Ogg Theora for video, and the (MP3 rival) Ogg Vorbis codec for general purpose audio.

Dr Pfeiffer said the CSIRO project team of four were not developing the compression techniques of these codecs rather, CSIRO was adding an HTML layer.

"We're indirectly adding the function of metadata," she said.

With Annodex, CSIRO has built on Ogg using time synchronous metadata, hyperlinks and representative images. The latter is a different image for every sound clip.

Dr Pfeiffer said CSIRO chose the Ogg format and its codecs like Ogg Vorbis for several reasons, one of which was legal requirements.

"When you encode MP3s you have to pay licensing fees to the patent holders [of the MP3 format], Thompson Multimedia and Fraunhofer Gesellschaft.

"We wanted to make this available to businesses, so it (MP3) was quite hard because of the proprietary format.

"So you're always in a grey area when you're using MP3s, legally speaking," she said.

Ogg and its Ogg Vorbis format are also superior to MP3, according to Dr Pfeiffer.

"There have been listening tests done, and it's better quality than MP3.

"Ogg has...better compression than MP3... which means you need less disk space to store your files on your computer," she said.

Xiph.Org was aware of CSIRO's work on Ogg, said Dr Pfeiffer, and CSIRO intended to meet Xiph.Org members to discuss the project.

Xiph.Org was still evaluating whether CSIRO's work would be included in future Ogg releases, Dr Pfeiffer said.

Meanwhile, the CSIRO project team plans to release for free download an Annodex browser for Mac OS X by January, she said. Windows and Linux browsers should be developed by this time, she said.

Mac users will then use the browser to access Annodex media content stored on CSIRO's server, which uses Annodex server software.

The project team also plans to develop an authoring tool for labelling scenes or audio clips, as well as an Annodex search engine.

An open source development kit is available, and Australian media companies such as Perth's PIVoD Technologies are participating in the project, said Dr Pfeiffer, which should later increase the amount of Annodex content available.

The Continuous Media Web is currently some way from completion, however, said Dr Pfeiffer.

"Standards take time to be adopted, and we're working with MPEG for interoperability.

"For rolling it (Annodex related software) out generally it will be quite some time; we're developing a world wide web.

"And the World Wide Web took some time to be recognised after it was created."

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