MPEG-4 Sees Progress at NAB Amid Resistance

In a sign that some telecommunications firms are coming to dine at the MPEG-4 table, ClearStar USA has asked iVAST, Inc. to provide it with a complete set of software and systems modeled on the evolving standard. However, not everyone is a fan of MPEG-4, as New York’s On2 Technologies Inc. sent a white paper to the U.S. Department of Justice decrying the standard.

With this multimillion-dollar deal, for which specific terms were not made public, El Dorado Hills, Calif.’s ClearStar USA will bundle Santa Clara, Calif.’s iVast’s platform in its set-top box, which it sells through cable operators that want to offer interactive broadband services. The announcement, made from the bustle of the National Association of Broadcasters Convention 2002 in Las Vegas, comes a day after iVAST launched its revamped MPEG-4 product line, including a full range of software tools. Featured among these are an media player, an encoder and a server.

ClearStar, operating as a broadband service provider, will take the newly-refreshed iVAST products and add them to its set-top boxes, which will be sold through cable companies. iVAST will also provide program management services for users. Through cable companies, the consumer will have the opportunity to subscribe to media-on-demand programming; localization of national programming with multilingual support; and “Triple-play” broadband services, including television, telephony and Internet access from ClearStar.

While iVAST may be making the loudest noise at NAB concerning MPEG-4, one dissenter across the country is railing against the standard, which has yet to be stuck with licensing terms that digital media companies or service providers recognize as universally fair — particularly for the video aspect. On2, which makes its own multimedia codecs that compete with MPEG-4 (as do top proprietors Microsoft Corp. and RealNetworks Inc. ), is claiming that MPEG-4 is invalid.

According to On2 President and CEO Douglas A. McIntyre, “MPEG-4 does not have a right to exist” because it has not been given a patent pooling exemption by the U.S. Justice Department. “The validity of its licenses is, therefore, in question.”

Those interested in a fuller explanation can see On2’s white paper to the DOJ here. Interestingly, On2 joined the Internet Streaming Media Alliance, a
consortium of firms working together to etch out streaming media interoperability whose interest lies heavily with the progress of
MPEG-4, in March.

Tuesday’s deal hardly comes as a surprise, as iVAST and ClearStar demonstrated interactive MPEG-4 content being transmitted by satellite and distributed over existing cable networks in January. ClearStar is one of the number of telcos hoping to displace traditional analog and even digital cable provisions with the MPEG-4 standard. In fact, iVAST also signed a contract with San Francisco’s Cloud Systems, which will use the iVAST platform to power its to power its encoding and digital media development services.

iVAST and ClearStar are now developing systems, with a beta deployment planned for May and a full deployment to begin in August 2002. The first deployments are slated for Mexico and Asia/Pacific.

There are numerous MPEG-4 announcements circulating around NAB, too many to list. However, among the more pronounced news items, MPEG-4 compression pioneer DivXNetworks, Inc. announced a partnership with e.Digital Corporation to jointly develop and market a range of consumer electronics devices that play back DivX video, including handhelds, DVD players, set-top boxes and digital cameras.

Also, MovieLink, a video-on-demand provider backed by a brigade of 5 firms (Sony Pictures, Viacom’s Paramount, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer,
AOL Time Warner’s Warner Bros. and Vivendi Universal), said that it plans to launch its VOD service later this year using MPEG-4.

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