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ISMA Releases Next Link in Content Delivery Chain

As new technologies emerge and the industries around them grow, there’s often a mad dash among manufacturers to have their products become standardized across a particular market. But competing pieces of technology don’t always play well together in their early generations. It’s arguably not until widely accepted standards are in place that most technologies are able to take off in the consumer market.

The Internet Streaming Media Alliance (ISMA) is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to "accelerate the adoption and deployment of open standards for streaming rich media," according to its Web site. On January 11, ISMA announced the availability of its 2.0 specification, which is yet another step towards ISMA’s ultimate goal of defining and standardizing the entire content delivery chain, thereby increasing the value to consumers. Here’s how they plan to do it.

Laying the Groundwork
Not surprisingly, ISMA 2.0 was preceded by an earlier specification: ISMA 1.0. "ISMA 1.0 was widely successful from a technology perspective," says Rich Mavrogeanes, ISMA board member and founder of VBrick Systems. "It’s just that MPEG-4 Part 2"—which is what ISMA 1.0 was based on—"didn’t provide sufficient differentiation between itself and what the proprietary market was delivering." This new specification uses the higher compression and greater dynamics of MPEG-4 Part 10, also referred to as H.264. "Like 1.0, ISMA 2.0 says, ‘Here’s how you deliver H.264 in a multi-vendor streaming environment,’" says Mavrogeanes. "It defines the codecs and delivery mechanisms, as well as the receiving mechanisms."

Neither spec attempts to come up with new standards. "We don’t invent anything," says Mavrogeanes. "What we do is come up with implementations guidelines to work with standards that already exist. Except for ISMA, there’s no agreement, no standardized way to say ‘This is how you deliver AVC over an IP network.’ ISMA publishes that standard."

Another important aspect of ISMA is its interoperability testing initiatives, which are carried out via "plugfests" both at quarterly meetings and online. "Plugfests are where members and non-members all get together in a lab and conduct interoperability testing," Mavrogeanes explains. These plugfests help manufacturers ensure that their products are compliant with ISMA’s implementation guidelines. "ISMA 1.0 has the highest degree of interoperability today, because it’s been out there a long time, although it took a long time for all of the vendors at all of the plug fests to work out the kinks," says Mavrogeanes. "I think that ISMA got the formula down in 1.0. Compared to 1.0, 2.0 had interoperability much more quickly."

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