MPEG-4 is "a big standard," said Tim Schaaff, vice president of engineering for Apple Computer Inc.'s Interactive Media Group. "It's got tons of tools inside." Its success, he said, will depend on the industry's willingness to home in on a small subset, winnowing from a number of profiles and levels designed for streaming a slew of digital multimedia types -- audio, several types of video, still images, and 2-D and 3-D graphics.
"MPEG-4 is a very ambitious standard, but its biggest problem is that it wasn't focused on anything," said Didier LeGall, vice president for R&D and chief technology officer at chip house C-Cube Microsystems Inc. LeGall dismissed MPEG-4's vaunted object-based coding -- one of the technologies that sets it apart from earlier MPEG spins -- as "science fiction" and "nothing more than a gadget" at this point. "I haven't seen any content with objects that really makes sense," he said.
MPEG-4's chief features include highly efficient compression, error resilience, bandwidth scalability ranging from 5 kbits to 20 Mbits/second, network and transport-protocol independence, content security and object-based interactivity, or the ability to pluck a lone image -- say, the carrot Bugs Bunny is about to chomp -- out of a video scene and move it around independently.
Broadband service providers, such as cable and DSL companies, are right behind wireless in sizing up MPEG-4, largely because its low bit rate could help them add channels in their broadband pipes while incorporating interactive features in the content. Possibilities include multiple video streams, clickable video, real-time 3-D animation and interactive advertising.
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