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Looking into the Crystal Ball: The Future of Open-Standard Internet Video

Start with the premise that standards-based compression technologies, such as MPEG-2, have effectively solidified the broadcast market. Add in a pinch of discontent with proprietary compression technologies and a dash of hope that H.264 (AVC) is enough of a quality leap from MPEG-2 that broadcasters will adopt it. Add three panelists, mix it all up, and throw in an effective moderator--Dale Sorenson of Sorenson Services USA--and you’ll have the makings of a very interesting discussion at the recent Streaming Media East show.

Sorenson asked the panelists first to define the difference between IPTV and streaming media. Acknowledging that "IPTV" had been used by Cisco for several years in a different context and that "streaming media" is a term that suffers from the "what does that mean exactly?" syndrome, Phil Smith of Complete Media System took a stab at defining both. He defined IPTV as "D1 TV delivered over IP to a consumer’s TV set, often in a ‘walled garden’ scenario—an intra-ISP/telco/cable provider domain with limited or no open access to public Internet."

Smith’s definition of streaming media was a bit more nebulous—"delivering video or audio content from anywhere on the ’Net to a device (PC, mobile, PDA, etc.)"—and was challenged by the other panelists as being problematic for its breadth and the fact that many product manufacturers have moved away from the term "streaming media" to alternates like "Internet video" or the the equally nebulous "digital media" or "rich media."

Segueing into an issue to which many in the audience would later refer during the question-and-answer session, On2 chairman and CEO Doug McIntyre noted his real concern. "Who will win the format war?" McIntyre asked. "Microsoft made strong initial headway in the broadcast space, but a window of opportunity is open now in that H.264 is on the market and VC1 is not yet." VC1 is the version of Windows Media 9 that Microsoft has submitted to SMPTE for consideration.

"I think Microsoft has two issues," McIntyre continued. "First, the intellectual property issues; second, the fact that many major players are uncomfortable doing business with Microsoft, for fear of domination of IPTV in the same way that Microsoft dominates the desktop space. On a positive note, even though our view of Microsoft’s long-term pricing is a bit clouded, Microsoft has shown they are willing to spend money or pay companies to use their product—buying their way into markets they deem important to future Microsoft business. It will be hard for telcos, ISPs, and cable providers to turn down billions of dollars in incentives if Microsoft attempts to buy the market."

Envivio president and CTO Julien Signes added to McIntyre’s comments by noting that "MPEG LA has a clear published cost structure for licensing H.264 … Even if you don’t like it, it’s there. VC1, when it is finalized by SMPTE," he continued, "will have similar licensing fee requirements, but final pricing is not yet out on the market. So it’s hard to compare a known quantity, H.264, with the unratified VC1 and its unknown licensing fee."

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