Apple Computer's (AAPL)
QuickTime technology for multimedia playback and authoring will be used as the foundation for a new generation of interactive content, a move that will likely help cement Apple's favored place among multimedia producers.
The International Organization for
Standardization (ISO), a major standards-setting body, has adopted a proposal by Apple, IBM, Netscape Communications, Oracle, Silicon Graphics, and Sun Microsystems to utilize Apple's
QuickTime File Format for the MPEG-4 specification.
MPEG-4 is an emerging digital media
standard currently being defined by ISO's Moving Picture Experts Group
(MPEG) that will enable users to view and manipulate audio, video, and
other forms of digital content. MPEG-2 is the current standard for playback
of full-motion video for DVD (digital versatile disc) and other media.
By using the QuickTime file format as the starting point for an MPEG-4
standard, all digital media content can be authored in a common file format
that also supports real-time video and audio streaming, according to
authors of the proposal. This digital stream can then be delivered over the
Internet and corporate networks or broadcast directly into the home, Apple said.
"They've found the container that can hold MPEG-4 content," says Stephan
Somogyi, principal of consultancy Gyroscope. "It's a feather in Apple's
cap, but it doesn't tell us how MPEG-4 [works]," he says. The
method for compressing large amounts of data into manageable sizes that can
be transmitted over a variety of networks, for one, has yet to be settled
Apple is not likely to gain a large amount of revenue as a result of the
announcement. It said it has not settled on plans to license QuickTime
technology, but "Companies are obligated [by the ISO] to license on
reasonable and non-discriminatory terms," said an Apple spokesperson.
"This is not particularly viewed as a fundamental foundation for a large
money-making venture," the spokesperson said. The real benefit for Apple is
that the majority of existing hardware, software, and digital content will
likely be able to work with this next-generation version of MPEG, thus
allowing current customers in the content and publishing markets to stay
with the company's products.
And while an MPEG-4 standard is not expected until January 1999, the use of a standard content "container" has important implications for multimedia and video producers, analysts say.
"What this [announcement] allows for is more rapid creation of tools and content [that use MPEG-4]," said Ralph Rogers, principal multimedia analyst with Dataquest.
The use of MPEG-4 as a standard playback environment will allow for new
kinds of interactive content, according to Dataquest's Rogers. Multimedia
and video producers will find it easier to distribute content to a variety
of platforms, including digital TV, the Internet, PCs, and DVD discs, he
Reuters contributed to this report.