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Culture

Japan broadcasters adopt video codec for mobile

Six major Japanese broadcasters say they will adopt AVC/H.264 for mobile broadcasting, licensing agreements that should go far to establish the emerging video compression technology.

Six major Japanese broadcasters on Wednesday said they will adopt an emerging video compression technology by early 2006 that will make it possible for them to send video to handheld devices.

TV broadcasters including NHK, TBS, NTV, TV Asahi, Fuji TV and TV Tokyo reached an accord to license the AVC/H.264 video encoding technology, or codec, from MPEG LA, the body that represents its patent holders. AVC/H.264 is a technology standard for compressing large media files into smaller ones for efficient transport over airwaves, cable lines or Internet Protocol.

The licensing agreements are important because they signal that service providers are adopting the codec, which is part of the MPEG-4 standard that's slated to replace the current MPEG-2 video compression standard for cable and satellite companies.

The accords, which allow the broadcasters to pay one-time rather than annual fees, could help buck the idea that fee terms for AVC/H.264 (also known as MPEG-4 Part 10) are too formidable and complex for potential licensees.

"It's important to see actual customers say, Yes we will use this technology," said Rob Koenen, chairman of the MPEG Requirements Group. "This is a change away from use fees to a one-time payment."

Under the agreement, the broadcasters will have the option of paying a one-time fee of $2,500 for each encoder used in transmitting the AVC/H.264 video, as opposed to annual fees. Licensing covers the use of AVC/H.264 video for free cable, satellite and terrestrial broadcast television.

Representatives for MPEG LA said that the agreement came after several months of talks and much consideration of the Japanese broadcasters' needs.

The broadcasters have been laying out plans for programming services for mobile devices since December but encountered hurdles with patent rights for the underlying technology to deliver such services. "As a result, there was no firm schedule for when these services would be realized," according to a statement from the group of broadcasters.

"This resolution represents a major step forward in terms of achieving mobile broadcast services using AVC/H.264 as the coding technology," the broadcasters said. "When these services become a reality, any user will be able to enjoy the latest broadcasts easily, anytime and anywhere."

The broadcasters said that they plan to introduce mobile broadcast services by the first quarter of 2006. However, first they must establish specifications for receiver terminals and ARIB (Association of Radio Industries and Businesses) standards and usher in the development of mobile personal receivers by manufacturers. For its part, MPEG LA signaled that it would be amenable to considering broadcasters in developing countries.