Apple actually released a public preview of QuickTime 6, including all the MPEG-4 features, weeks ago, and even released the final version hours before the contract was finalized, according to a C|Net article. MPEG LA’s official position is that the original license would have limited adoption of the technology. Who would have thought?
QT6 also pushes Dolby’s AAC audio, which can produce better sound in half the size of the venerable MP3 format; another opportunity for standard formats to catch up to proprietary, DRM-laden schemes. There is even a rumor of AAC being the preferred format on a new 20GB iPod, bearing an inevitable “8,000 songs in your pocket” slogan. This could be one of the fastest hardware implementations of one of the new standards.
Indeed, much of the point of the standards, laden with their patent licencing mess, is that they have the kind of huge corporations backing them that you need to stand a chance against the Windows Media Behemoth as digital multimedia moves into the embedded age. The Internet Streaming Media Alliance, which promotes MPEG-4 interoperability, includes such members as Apple, Cisco, IBM, Sun, Philips, AOL Time-Warner, Dolby, Hitachi, Lucent, Panasonic, Sharp, SGI and Sony; and Nokia already has plans to use standard ISMA MPEG-4 streams on cell phones.
But even with the emergence of modern standards with big backers, the multimedia market is more fractured than ever. We have the ISMA supporting the standard MPEG-4 format, while Apple also still supports a huge array of proprietary codecs and formats in QuickTime, and bases it’s revenue on selling the pro version of their player along with the attraction tier multimedia layer integration creates to other pro products like Final Cut Pro and DVD Studio Pro, while open-sourcing it’s server. Meanwhile we have Microsoft announcing it’s new Windows Media 9 format, and seeking to get it’s revenue through selling server software and through locking hardware into their format. Real stays on it’s track of very slowly updating the RealVideo format and charging for both their pro player and server, although they do plan to let you stream MPEG-4s on their server software. And open-source advocates push promising new formats made by Ogg along with any obsolete format that gets abandoned, while seeking better hardware support.
Only time will tell if the “standard” is true to it’s title, and how far Microsoft can push Windows Player 9 and it’s pervasive DRM given the availability of competing formats which are either standard or open.