Apple Computer released the final version of its QuickTime 6 digital media software on Monday, marking a stand-down in a dispute over licensing fees.
The company also is considering serving up CEO Steve Jobs' Macworld keynote address on Wednesday in MPEG-4 format, which could be viewed using QuickTime 6. That would make the keynote the first major event streamed in MPEG-4 format over the Web.
For certain, the keynote address would be available in QuickTime format for users of version 5.
Apple's release of QuickTime 6 came just hours before the resolution of a licensing scuffle with MPEG LA, the group of patent holders governing the technology, has been resolved. Apple previewed QuickTime 6 in February, but initially held back release because of the licensing problems. MPEG LA wanted to charge per user for streaming, which would have been costly for Apple and other MPEG-4 licensees, particularly given that Microsoft planned to charge for its upcoming Windows Media 9.
"We've made a lot of progress as an industry working with MPEG LA, moving them considerably from where they were six months ago," said Frank Casanova, Apple's director of QuickTime product marketing. "They're primed to release a set of terms that the industry would find more reasonable."
Rob Koenen, president of the MPEG Requirements Group, said that MPEG LA has had to reconsider per-use fees because of the threat of the technology dying on the vine.
"If the terms are acceptable for the markets, MPEG-4 will take off big time. If not, it will be a serious impediment," Koenen said.
The format, he said, was created for use in multiple markets, and much like the MP3 standard for listening to music files, MPEG-4 needs to be adopted on the Internet to ensure its eventual spread to consumer electronics devices, mobile gadgets and video-on-demand services. But if Web sites are forced to pay per-use stream fees, its adoption could easily be hampered.
"MPEG-4 doesn't exist in a vacuum--it has to be economically feasible too. Frankly, I don't think everything will be solved in the first release of the licensing terms."
An MPEG LA spokesman on Monday said the group was ready to announce the terms of a final MPEG-4 licensing arrangement.
"A couple of things that have transpired the last few months include their consideration of thresholds under which people don't pay, caps under which people don't pay and a more clear definition in-between those folks who normally would pay," Casanova said.
"If you don't charge for your content, you don't pay anything at all," he said. "Therefore, MPEG-4 streaming will largely be free. It's just those companies that have a pay-per-view model built into their business model that would actually have to talk to MPEG LA."
Media 9 meets QuickTime 6
Apple's QuickTime announcement comes the same day that Microsoft said the beta version of Windows Media 9 Series, a competitor to QuickTime 6, would enter its test phase on Sept. 4. The timing of Microsoft's announcement, and others planned for
this week, could be a move by the software titan to steal some thunder from Macworld, say analysts.
Windows Media 9 uses proprietary codecs--or formulas for compression and decompression of files--for delivering streaming audio and video content over the Web, while Apple is supporting open-standard MPEG-4.
MPEG-4 is a successor to MPEG-1 and MPEG-2, technologies that are instrumental for delivering digital broadcast transmissions over cable, satellite and the Web. MPEG-2 also is the video standard adopted by Hollywood for DVDs. In addition, MPEG-4 is seen as a possible successor to MP3, the hugely popular audio format for compressing music digitally.
Content creators can use MPEG-4 and its predecessors to condense large digital video or audio files into smaller ones, which is essential to delivering them smoothly over the Web or to tiny devices such as cell phones. MPEG-4, which has better compression bit-rates than MPEG-2, also adds features in the areas of interactivity, e-commerce and digital rights management.
One of MPEG-4's advantages is delivering higher-quality video streaming using smaller files. Another allows instant-on capabilities, rather than forcing the user to wait for the player to cache the digital audio or video before playback starts.
"QuickTime 6 certainly is better positioned to take advantage of some of the toolsets in MPEG-4," said Yankee Group analyst Ryan Jones. "Microsoft has taken a proprietary codec and underneath that a proprietary platform and layered on new features QuickTime 6 with MPEG-4 already has."
He referred specifically to the instant-on capability, "which beat Microsoft to market with that feature."
By supporting MPEG-4, Apple hopes to get a leg up in media streaming, where it has been running a distant third to Microsoft and RealNetworks. Because MPEG-4 is not dependent on a particular player, wide adoption of the format could greatly help QuickTime adoption.
"Content developers should get very excited, but for the next quarter or so consumers shouldn't get too excited," Jones said. "It's going to take awhile for the content developers to integrate all the new QuickTime capabilities, specifically MPEG-4, before consumers see Internet content that is marketedly different."
Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple released a QuickTime 6 preview release in early June.
"Our public preview period lasted just over a month, and nearly 1 million people downloaded the preview client," Casanova said.
The final version of QuickTime 6 is available from Apple's Web site in versions for Mac OS 9 and OS X and for Windows.
News.com's Stefanie Olsen contributed to this report.