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On2 blows trumpet for new codec

The developer unveils an update to its video compression technology that it says beats the socks off rival software such as Microsoft's Windows Media Player 9.

On2 Technologies has introduced a video compression technology that it says outstrips rival industry standards and proprietary software in quality.

The New York-based company Monday officially launched VP6, a software product that compresses large video files for transport and decoding to a wide range of electronics devices, including set-top boxes, PCs and handheld computers. VP6 joins On2's previous lineup of full-motion video compression and streaming technology, TrueMotion VP4 and VP5.

The image quality and performance of the new compression technology, or codec, outperforms the industry standard codec, JVT/H.26L, according to On2. It also outdoes proprietary software DivX 5.05 and Windows Media Player 9, the dominant technology for the PC, the company said.

"The benefit of VP6 is simple and tangible: VP6 video looks sharper, it plays faster and it runs better on their platforms," On2 Chief Technology Officer Eric Ameres said in a statement.

The new codec supports high-definition display without any compressor restrictions and supports real-time encoding at D1 resolutions. It runs on inexpensive digital signal processors without the pricey subprocessors that standards-based codecs JVT and MPEG-4 require, said On2.

In addition, VP6 improves image quality by up to 40 percent compared with its predecessor and uses up to 50 percent less CPU (central processing unit) power than VP5, creating faster performance on semiconductors, the company said.

But industry analysts say that whatever the claims of performance quality, industry adoption by equipment makers, content companies and others is what counts.

"Having the best technology doesn't necessarily mean that you're going to win," said Michael Gartenberg, research director at Jupiter Research. "You may arguably be better than Microsoft, but (Windows Media is) on every desktop."

The new codec got a boost recently when it received a nod from America Online. In April, the AOL Time Warner unit entered a nonexclusive licensing deal with On2 to use VP6, an extension of its rights to use earlier technology.

Under the terms of the deal, the Internet media giant may grant its content partners use of On2's technology for encoding programming that will be distributed through AOL services. In addition, the online company may deliver certain undisclosed products and services to its members using the codecs.

On2's software has picked up other backers, too. Last summer, AOL-owned Nullsoft licensed On2's VP3.2 video codec for its multimedia player, Winamp3.

VP6 is expected to be released in two versions: Simple Profile for faster playback on inexpensive processors and Advanced Profile for high quality at extremely low bitrates. Both versions will encode and decode at any data rate and adjust image dimensions.

The company said the codec is particularly revolutionary for the digital television industry, which relies on the industry standard MPEG-2. It says that VP6 surpasses the video quality of MPEG-2 at half the data rate and without needing more processing power.

Japanese electronics giant Sony is also expected later this year to launch a new plasma screen TV set that will tune in streaming video from home networks and the Internet, in a project called Altair. On2 will provide the video compression and decompression technology for the television.