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 upon.
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 says.
Reuters contributed to this report.