Apple Rumored to Move to New Video Codec

July 27th, 2010 by Mike Wilcox

A few weeks ago I gave a presentation on HTML5 Video, and suggested that Apple may be the new evil empire for getting the world hooked on the H264 MPEG codec, and then collect massive royalties a few years later.

However, rumor has it that Apple is investing in a new video codec, possibly based on the Dirac specification. We suspect that H264 may already be already somewhat outdated, as work on it started about 10 years ago, and much of the effort was based on new found desktop computer horse power. As we’ve seen the last few years with the iPhone and Android, the future of the web will not always be about horse power, but will at least include (if not be replaced by) mobile computing. Apple could be looking for a codec that is not as reliant upon hardware acceleration – and H264 is very processor intensive.

The Dirac codec is standardized and open source. This makes sense, since Apple has based their OSX on Free BSD with great success. Dirac uses wavelet compression, which is the same type of compression that JPEG 2000 uses. Artifacts are less visible and there is almost no blocking. The algorithm is claimed to give a two-fold reduction in bit rate over MPEG-2 for high definition video. The compression gains are attributed to the use of a more sophisticated entropy encoding scheme. Besides using less horse power, it can also scale massively large, to 4096×2160. Coincidence? YouTube has recently announced support for 4K video. Apple could be trying to capture an iTunes-based, Apple TV 2.0, Video on Demand.

One single video codec for the Open Web? Not so much. But the possible move away from proprietary formats is much welcome. Here’s hoping there is truth to the rumor.

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