Start-up claims video-compression breakthrough
By Joris Evers
(IDG) -- A Silicon Valley startup claims it has found a new approach to video compression that blows away the commonly used MPEG-2 standard and will allow transmission of broadcast-quality video over DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) connections.
Pulsent Corp. said on Monday that after four years of work it is ready to come out of stealth mode and show off technology that it claims provides a 400 percent improvement in bandwidth and storage efficiency over MPEG-2. The technique would allow TV-quality video to be transmitted over 1.1M bps (bits per second) connections, according to a Pulsent statement.
Enhanced video compression could drive new services such as video on demand and allow DSL providers to compete with cable television providers.
The Milpitas, California-based startup will preview its invention at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) event in Las Vegas next month. It faces tough competition even if it can deliver on its claims. Many of the companies it will have to persuade have already invested in other MPEG-2 successors, such as MPEG-4 and H.26L, which is expected to become part of the MPEG-4 standard.
Pulsent might have the edge today, but MPEG-4 is getting close to achieving the same compression ratio in combination with bitrate, said Danilo Tromp, a systems architect working on MPEG-4 products at Hilversum, Netherlands-based NOB Holding NV, the Dutch broadcast facilities.
"Pulsent's claims sound good, if in fact they can achieve a broadcast quality stream at 1.1M bps. However, MPEG-4 comes close today and I think that with H.26L it will reach that in the near future," he said, adding that broadcast quality in Europe is defined as a 720 x 576 pixel picture streaming at 25 frames per second.
Etienne Fert, a Paris-based video and communication research group leader at Philips Research, part of electronics giant Koninklijke Philips Electronics NV, agreed.
"MPEG-4 with H.26L can meet such a bitrate. At 1M bit it will be at least VHS quality, moving up to DVD (digital versatile disc) quality at 1.5M bps," he said. "I don't think Pulsent's announcement is a breakthrough compared to existing technologies."
Key to Pulsent's technology is an object-based approach to video compression, as opposed to the block-based approach taken by MPEG-2, according to the company. Pulsent's way is to identify and model structural elements in a frame, instead of what it calls modeling of "arbitrary blocks." Pulsent claims its objects can be far more accurately modeled than arbitrary blocks.
MPEG-4, the first version of which was released in 1999, also takes an object-based approach to video compression and is now making its way into software and hardware products. Backers of MPEG-4 include Philips, Microsoft Corp., Apple Computer Inc., Cisco Systems Inc. and Sony Corp.
A clear disadvantage over MPEG-4, according to Tromp, is that Pulsent's technology is proprietary. Pulsent says it has over 200 patents filed and in process.
"MPEG-4 is an open standard, that is what we prefer,"he said. "However, we would like to see some material in broadcast quality and are interested in Pulsent's technique."
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