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  What is the New H.264 Video Standard About?
The New, Dramatically Better H.264 Video Standard.
When the Video iPod was released, we ordered the first ones - then scrambled to understand the new standard that was responsible for such impressive images in a compressed format 10x smaller than the original video files. Industry experts agree on the superior quailty of H.264 over Windows Media Video (wmv) format. While compression time takes a bit longer, the results are worth it. H.264 scales from handheld devices to the televsion screen with ease and fewer artifacts. As a result, busy executives on the go can more easily learn about the very latest in venture assessment tools, saving valuable time without sacraficing too much on image quality over the DVD version. DVD is still preferred for viewing the details, but for portable personal viewing, h.264 is the solution we selected.

VenLogic video is in H.264/MPEG-4 format, so it looks better on any compatible player, including iPod and others.
While we previously had all of our video on this site encoded in WMV, we decided to recode all of our video into H.264.
Why would anybody do that?
- We believe that over time we will reach more people, with a better quality representation of our content.
- We wanted to lower our production & web hosting costs by now having to support proprietary WMV along side other formats.
Apple Focused Quicktime as a Video Production Tool
using ITU Standard H.264/MPEG-4 (AVC)

"H.264 gained traction in 2004 after being ratified for the HD-DVD and Blu-Ray specifications -- the two new high definition DVD content standards. In November 2004 the Digital Video Broadcasting Steering Board approved a revision to its implementation guidelines for audio and video codecs over a broadcast Transport Stream. The revision included H.264, which Apple supported. The technology has also received the nod from the MPEG-4 group, the 3GPP group and the Association of Japanese Broadcasters." Article.

"Apple's Macintosh computers maintain a stronghold in video editing, thanks to their long legacy of use in Avid and competitors' video equipment and Apple's own professional software, Final Cut Pro. While Apple has carved out a video production niche, Microsoft has been trying to control video distribution through its Windows Media Video 9, which is currently popular for Web video, but also has the potential to be used for portable entertainment, DVDs, and even cable-TV distribution." Article

By choosing to make it's propretary Quicktime codec compatible with approved Industry Standards, Apple enabled its development tools and player devices (e.g. iPod) to go to market faster in 2005, versus 2006. Which in turn, increased the market demand for H.264 as the preferred codec. Apple is not currently in the set-top box (STB) business, so it wasn't impaired by the delays of certain chip producers, who are now rallying behind AVC - with "9 out of 10 new operators opting for AVC." Article.

By choosing to leverage H.264, an Industry Standard, Apple was able to focus on other key solutions required to make personal video an enjoyable experience. To drive demand for a new video standard requires that both hardware and software be integrated in a way that meets our intangible needs too. Factors include industrial design, packaging, video conversion, digital rights mangement (DRM) for independent content producers (like VenLogic), scalability to other platforms, etc. All requirements that must be met before rapid adoption will enable industry growth.

It's the overall experience for every player in the value chain that determines whether a new technology will survive or not. Early adoption of H.264 ensures that the entire value chain uses compatible tools, to produce compatabile video software and hardware products, so video can play back on a wide variety of compatible players. While iPod may not be the personal video playback device form factor for everybody, the underlying value chain supports the core technologies within it and development tools are available now and will be supported by the industry over time. Which means, no matter what playback device you ultimately decide, you can be confident that your investment in the video content will be usable.

Such is the theory behind removing barriers that prevent adoption of a new video standard. Executing stratgies that drive adoption is another thing. By choosing to launch H.264 on iPod using Quicktime, Apple enables the hypergrowth potential that was seen in earlier versions of iPod and iTunes. The widespread presence of Quicktime, means virtually anyone can convert existing video into the new H.264 format faster, easier, and without special video production tools. The widespread presence of iTunes, means the potential for using iTunes digital rights management (DRM) for video producers, ensuring they get paid. New video players need a constant flow of new content. iTunes makes it easier for the Hollywood studies to get involved faster without competing with their existing business.

It is quite clear, that unlike in the previous introduction of new video standards where adoption took years, the iPod/iTunes combination stands to change that dramatically. In a matter of months, many factors will have contributed to the more rapid adoption of H.264 as the preferred standard for personal video playback - globally. A result of rapid adoption is industry growth and diversity. Over time you can expect to see a wider, perhaps more balanced set of video playback tools for any computer type, giving users more choice to decide which is best for their needs.

Pros of H.264
  • High Compression. We experienced 10:1 compression. HD movies can fit on the same DVD media.
  • HD-DVD Quality. Pristine quality you expect, at half the data rate. Superior to MPEG-2
  • More Channels. Fewer bits means more efficient use of bandwidth.
  • Better Video in limited spaces. Fewer bits means a better picture for mobile phone and portable video player users.
  • Industry Standard Now. Digital Video Broadcast standard in Europe, Japan and Korea. Being considered as the US TV standard by the ATSC.
  • Mobile Standard. Approved by ITU/3GPP for mobile telephony applications.
  • Scalable. Smoothly scales from very limited bandwidth applications like 3G cell phones all the way up to HD-quality video, and everything in between.
  • Future of Broadcast. Quality and Support combine to ensure that this open standard codec will survive in the market and be extended over time. Its a sure thing.
  • Plays on More Devices. Which is less risky. Proprietary standards like WMV will not.

Cons of H.264
  • Lacks Microsoft. The worlds leader could drive adoption of H.264 faster, but elected a different approach. Its the world vs. Microsoft.
  • Simple. Waiting definitely simplifies life. When time is money, image quality can take lower priority.
  • Reach / Support. Microsoft's will ensure that this proprietary codec will survive in the market and be extended over time.
  • Satellite TV Broadcast. MPEG-2 Compatable makes it a good choice for Satellite content distribution via set top boxes employing VC-1 codecs, like Xbox 360.

ITU Standard H.264:
Apple - H264 Technology Overview, FAQ
Apple - H.264 Technology_Brief (pdf)
Wikipedia - H.264/MPEG-4 AVC Features
MacWorld - Apple: Video's future is Tiger, QuickTime 7, H.264
Pixel Tools (Paper) - H.264 Advanced Video Coding: A tour

H.264 Software for PCs:
ARS Technica - Getting Video onto your iPod (OSX & XP) - How to play H.264 content on your PC
Redchair Software
Elecard Software - Elecard MP4 System Pack
Main Concept - H.264 Encoder v2 for Windows
Media Excel - H.264 Encoder for Windows CE
Canopus - ProCoder

iPod Related
OSX - Dougs Applescripts for iTunes
iLounge - iPod Focus
The Video iPod: What you need to know
TV my Pod - Service loads TV Shows on iPods

Video Related Forums
Handbrake - Open Source Video Conversion Tool
Podner - OSX Video Converter to iPod
Microsoft focused Windows Media Video (WMV)
as a Video Distribution Tool

The EE Times article below from last year does a nice job of going into the story of the H.264 vs. WMV9 Codec race. It illustrates Microsoft's strategy of proposing its proprietary standard "Windows Media Video 9-based VC-1 format to the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers as an industry-standard codec." EE Times - Review

Over a dozen firms are laying claim to patents behind Microsoft's approach. Article. Licensing fees to inventors represent another potential impediment to widespread adoption. Article. Understandably, the code war has caused some chip producers to hold back production until things shake out and demand signals become more clear. Article. Which is one reason why products featuring H.264 have already been introduced into the market (e.g iPod); while others like set-top boxes lag behind.

Despite the hesitation by standards committess, some chip makers decided to produce both WMV9 and H.264 compressors chips in 2005. Today, the chips, from Broadcom, Conexant and STMicroelectronics, all have H.264, a fully defined standard, but none offers the competing, Windows Media 9-based VC-1 format, which has not yet been ratified by the Society of Motion Pictures and Television Engineers (SMPTE). Article. Article.

"Technical comparison of H.264 and VC-1 reveals that the latter is slightly less complex than H.264 and uses less coding tools. This may result in slightly poorer performance but the experimental evidence so far is not yet conclusive. In particular, VC-1 includes neither CABAC nor 4x4 motion compensation. Whereas H.264 has been standardized by the ITU and ISO, VC-1 has now reached the status of the Committee Draft within SMPTE and has been submitted to ballot for Final Committee Draft (FCD). Both systems have been selected by the rival HD DVD and BluRay DVD proponents." Book Review. Article.

"ITU studies confirm, that H.264 has the ability to outperform MPEG-4 Visual convincingly (which in turn performs better than MPEG-2). Quality performance is but one factor that influences whether a new technology is successful in the marketplace. Other non-technical factors (discussed in chapter 8 of the book) involve selected topics such as industry support for the codec, availability of tools and costs, compliance with the standard and the successful resolution of the contentious topic of patent licensing." Book Review

Pros of WMV - Focus is on broadcast
  • Proprietary. If you prefer the Microsoft Brand for the convenience of waiting to see what they send you to install on your PC. You trust Microsoft.
  • Easier to wait. When time is money, time needed to do this analysis can take lower priority.
  • Reach / Support. Microsoft is determined to ensure that their proprietary codec will survive in the market and be extended over time.
  • Satellite TV Broadcast. MPEG-2 Compatable makes it a good choice for Satellite content distribution via set top boxes employing VC-1 codecs, like Xbox 360.

Cons of WMV - Focus is not on portable video
  • Lower Image Quality. Using our own video, we compared it side by side. We found WMV9 to be more pixelated, less fluid, and less likely to project onto a television, portable player, or mobile phone clearly.
  • Proprietary. Means fewer people can benefit. All tools that decode a proprietary format usually pay Microsoft royalties somewhere. So video will ultimately play on fewer hardware platforms and may cost more. It will play on Windows CE devices. It will not play on iPod.
  • Horsepower Required. WMV9 runs best on desktop PCs running 3.0 GHz processor with 512 MB of RAM and a 128 MB video card for 1080p playback on Windows XP.
  • Portable Video Players (PVP). currently don't run WMV with the same performance as H.264-based iPod. CNet Reviews PVP.
  • Industry Support. The broadcast TV industry is fearful of being taken over like the desktop software industry was. So demand for VC-1 is unclear. Article.

Microsoft - VC-1 Proprietary Codec - WMV9:
Microsoft - What is VC-1?
Microsoft - WMV HD Content Showcase
Wikipedia - VC-1

H.264 vs. WMV Analysis:
A demonstration of H.264 encoding
EE Times - Review
MV HD Content VS Quicktime 7
Technical - Encoding efficiencies of MPEG2, MPEG4-2 & h.264
Wikipedia - HD TV
Report: Portable Audio, Video and Game Market Evolution

Semantic Web 3.0
Jian Biz Plan Builder for Windows
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