H.264 Moves to Center Stage in 2006

A year ago this week, StreamingMedia.com posted an article titled H.264 Begins Its Ascent. In it, I noted that while H.264 had been declared dead in some corners, it appeared to be poised for growth in 2005.

I was wrong. With the benefit of hindsight, I see now that I totally underestimated the foothold that H.264 would gain in late 2005, with the advent of the iPod Video, and the impact H.264 would have as we move into 2006. As recently as last week, I surmised that iPod Video sales would increase the use of H.264 video, but numbers released yesterday by Apple at Macworld 2006 show that the last quarter of 2005 far outpaced any previous quarter for H.264 adoption.

Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO, noted that over 8 million videos, at $1.99 per video, were sold between October 12 and December 31, 2005. That run rate appears to be on a steeper growth curve than initial audio downloads; even more surprising, as a sign of just how popular the iPod line is, Apple noted that they’d sold 14 million iPods in the 4th quarter alone. Demand exceeded supply, with total figures for the 2005 calendar year ended at 32 million iPods sold. In other words, Apple sold more iPods in the most recent quarter than it had in all the years preceding 2005 combined.

As impressive as the numbers are, H.264’s move to center stage would not be nearly as dramatic if Apple were the only game in town. So how does the rest of the H.264 landscape look? The rest of this article will give a brief overview of the market, an excerpt from a larger report being developed.

High Definition DVD players
News surrounding the release of HD-DVD and Blu-ray DVD players has been scarce, but the hype surrounding the U.S. product launches of these competing products has more than made up for it. At CES 2006, held in Las Vegas last weekend, Toshiba announced its intentions to ship HD-DVD players for the US market in March 2006. Two units, priced between $500 and $800, will support MPEG-2, VC-1, and H.264. In the Blu-ray camp, Pioneer has announced its intentions to release both a Blu-ray DVD player as well as a Blu-ray optical drive for the home computer market. Blu-ray also supports the same three video compression formats.

IP Set-Top Boxes
At CES 2006, several companies announced IP set-top boxes (STBs) that support H.264, including the Wave-300 from Softier, which runs on Linux. Many of these IP STBs are based on the TI DM64x chipset, which had been noted in a previous article.

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