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NEC to bring video to your cell phone

August 3, 1999
Web posted at: 9:07 a.m. EDT (1307 GMT)

by Michael Drexler

video phone

TOKYO (IDG) -- Deeming current audio and video compression technologies too slow and power-hungry for the mobile age, NEC has developed a device that can bring high-quality video to next-generation cellular phones.

The MPEG-4 (Moving Pictures Expert Group, Layer 4) codec (coding and decoding) device can compress audio and video data enough to be transmitted between mobile devices supporting data transfer rates between 64Kbps and 128Kbps, according to Seiji Sakai, a spokesman at the Tokyo-based company.

NEC said the device is the world's first MPEG-4 codec for use in networked mobile products like cellular phones.

MPEG-4 compresses video by storing the changes between frames, not the entire frame itself. Although MPEG-4 is still an emerging technology, a number of Japanese manufacturers are turning toward the standard for digital video devices. Sharp, for example, began shipping a MPEG-4 video camera earlier this year.

Mobile products equipped with NEC's codec will be able to display 10 to 15 frames per second of image data on a screen up to 176 pixels by 144 pixels, while consuming 94 milliwatts of power. The company claims that the device therefore has half the power usage and double the compression performance of current technologies.
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NEC's device has the added capability of transmitting picture and sound data in periodic cycles, enabling data errors to be corrected as images are transmitted, the company said.

Although NEC has not determined what products the codec will be built into, Sakai said that car navigation systems, Internet-connected digital video cameras, and mobile video phones are the most likely contenders.

Japanese mobile market leader NTT Mobile Communications Network (NTT DoCoMo) this summer began shipping a 64Kbps mobile phone in Japan.

Qualcomm, meanwhile, plans to roll out a cdmaOne-based 64K-bps handset this fall. Neither phone comes with a video function.

NTT DoCoMo, along with several other top mobile phone companies, is also developing a next-generation mobile transmission technology called W-CDMA, or Wideband Code Division Multiple Access, which will provide a transmission speed of up to 2Mbps. Devices based on W-CDMA are expected in early 2001.

NEC said that it must further miniaturize the codec before it begins rolling out products, which the Japanese vendor expects to ship by 2001. The company will also most likely sell the device to other vendors for use in their products, according to Sakai.

The NEC spokesman would not say how much the device will cost.

Michael Drexler writes for the IDG News Service in Tokyo.

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