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MPEG-4 is the global multimedia standard, delivering professional-quality audio and video streams over a wide range of bandwidths, from cell phone to broadband and beyond.

MPEG-4 was defined by the Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG), the working group within the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) that specified the widely adopted, Emmy Award-winning standards known as MPEG-1 and MPEG-2. Hundreds of researchers around the world contributed to MPEG-4, which was finalized in 1998 and became an international standard in 2000 and included in QuickTime in 2002.

Based on a Time-tested Technology

While audio and video are at the core of the MPEG-4 specification, MPEG-4 can also support 3D objects, sprites, text and other media types.

MPEG ComponentsSound familiar? It should. You’ve been able to mix media with Apple’s QuickTime technology for over a decade, storing each new type in a separate track. With this kind of extensibility, it’s no surprise that the ISO chose the QuickTime file format as the foundation for the new MPEG-4 standard.

Just as QuickTime does, MPEG-4 also scales to transport media at any data rate — from media suitable for delivery over dial-up modems to high-bandwidth networks. Because of the DNA-level relationship between MPEG-4 and QuickTime, MPEG-4 inherits QuickTime’s stability, extensibility and scalability.

Tomorrow’s Media Today

MPEG-4 is designed to deliver DVD-quality video (MPEG-2) at lower data rates and smaller file sizes. And the same folks who created the popular .mp3 file format — a.k.a. MPEG-1 layer III — developed the new Advanced Audio Coding (AAC) codec, providing much more efficient compression than MP3 with a quality rivaling that of uncompressed CD audio.

MPEG-4 is ready to stream incredible-quality audio and video today in QuickTime. With the free QuickTime Player or browser plug-in, you can play back any compliant MPEG-4 file. Upgrade to QuickTime Pro, and you can author your own MPEG-4 content. QuickTime Streaming Server and Darwin Streaming Server are also available to stream .mp4 files. And with QuickTime Broadcaster, you can produce live events in MPEG-4, making the QuickTime workflow (Broadcaster to Server to Player) the industry’s best and most cost-effective end-to-end, standards-based architecture.

But that’s not all. Because hundreds of multimedia authoring applications are built upon the QuickTime architecture, QuickTime instantly adds MPEG-4 capabilities to all these tools. This allows you to immediately create MPEG-4 content in programs such as Final Cut Pro and Adobe Premiere.

Plays Well With Others

Like MPEG-1 and MPEG-2 previously did for CD-ROMs and DVDs, MPEG-4 promises to create interoperability for video delivered over the Internet and other distribution channels. MPEG-4 will play back on many different devices — from satellite television to wireless devices.

To ensure that different products that use MPEG-4 each implement the standard in the same way, Apple, together with Cisco, IBM, Kasenna, Philips and Sun Microsystems, formed the Internet Streaming Media Alliance (ISMA). Other participants include AOL Time Warner, Dolby Laboratories, Hitachi, HP, Fujitsu and 20 other companies. The ISMA defines profiles that companies implement to ensure interoperability.

That means you can rest assured that the MPEG-4 media stream you create using one company’s product will run on another vendor’s player.

Gaining Momentum

In addition to being adopted by many of the premiere Internet content providers, the MPEG-4 standard is receiving tremendous support in other industries. For example, H.264 video, also known as MPEG-4 part 10, has been adopted by the ISO MPEG allowing QuickTime 7 to create ISO-complaint H.264 video in a .MP4 file. The standards for high-quality multimedia on wireless devices, 3GPP (3rd Generation Partnership Project) and 3GPP2 (3rd Generation Partnership Project 2), are based on the solid foundation of MPEG-4, as well.

Satellite Broadcasters like DirecTV and the DVB have adopted MPEG-4 for the delivery of digital television because of its quality at lower data rates. This means that they can offer more channels to their subscribers with the same bandwidth.

Everyone’s a Winner

MPEG-4 provides an open playing field. As an open industry standard, anyone can create an MPEG-4 player or encoder that will work with other manufacturers’ devices.

Media companies save time and resources by encoding material once for playback everywhere. No longer will content providers need to encode, host and store media in multiple formats. Instead, a single format can reach a broad audience equipped with playback devices from not one, but a multitude of companies across a wide array of platforms. Finally, content creators have a format that will reach a global audience and will stand the test of time. While other formats and versions come and go, MPEG-4 will safeguard multimedia content for a secure future.

And of course, resources saved in encoding, hosting and storing media can be better used to create a wider library of digital media, which benefits the entire Internet community.

Exceptional Video

QuickTime File Format

Apple has developed two of its own ISO-compliant video codecs, MPEG-4 part 2 (a.k.a. MPEG-4 simple profile) and MPEG-4 part 10 (a.k.a. H.264) providing the highest quality results across a wide spectrum of data rates — from narrowband to broadband and beyond. These revolutionary codecs offer compression times and video quality that rival those of the best proprietary codecs available, yet it provides true interoperability with other MPEG-4 players and devices.

MPEG-4 Part 2 Video

The QuickTime MPEG-4 codec leverages many advances in technology to provide superior performance. For example, the codec provides rate control—the encoder can be set to a target data rate that ensures playback at the appropriate data rate for a particular delivery mechanism. The versatile encoder can use the single-pass variable bit rate (VBR) rate controller either to maximize accuracy for the highest-quality output or to maximize speed for the fastest possible encode. In addition, the QuickTime MPEG-4 codec features rigorous color management, a high-performance quantizer and a motion estimator optimized for both precision and speed. The decoder also provides an optimized post-processing stage to remove coding artifacts. Both the encoder and decoder are heavily optimized for both the Intel Core Duo processors, as well as the 64-bit G5 and the G4 Velocity Engine.


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