Monday, July 11, 2005

BBC CREATES CODEC TO AVOID INFRINGEMENT: The BBC recently announced that it has decided to develop its own multimedia codec, called Dirac. This new format is fully open source, supports high-resolution video, and promises a twofold increase in compression compared with current MPEG standards at the same video quality. The final release is due before the end of the year, but experimental versions are available now. The VideoLAN project, for one, has built preliminary support for Dirac into the latest version of its open source VLC multimedia player, released in late June.

Why is the BBC doing this when all sorts of other codecs (MPEG, QuickTime, x264, DivX) are already available? In a word - patent infringement.

The BBC has concluded that multimedia remains a veritable minefield of patents. In fact, so many patents apply to the simple act of playing compressed video on a computer screen that it would be virtually impossible to develop any kind of multimedia application without an industry consortium such as the MPEG committee.

The way consortiums work is that the various patent holders join an industry group and agree to let their patents become part of that group's standards. In so doing, they agree to license their technologies under the blanket terms agreed on by the consortium. In the case of MPEG, that means "reasonable and nondiscriminatory" licensing terms. Anybody is free to license MPEG standards - nobody can be shut out - just as long as they pay the fees.

The BBC decided this was no good for open source projects, as well as the end-user. Thus, Dirac was born. BBC however, was mum whether any patent protection would be pursued with regard to Dirac.

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