A few years ago, it seemed obvious that we were on the verge of a major change
in how consumers obtain and view movies at home. There would be no more schlepping
out to the video store to rent a DVD; with the increasing availability of digital
video content on the Internet, it seemed clear that everyone would shift to
streaming video, to video-on-demand, to any-movie-anytime- with-no-late-fees.
The video stores all would close down and become Starbucks cafes or yoga studios.
This hasn’t happened yet. The problem isn’t that there aren’t
good video compression algorithms available (there are) or that there isn’t
enough digital video content (there is) or that broadband connections aren’t
sufficiently common (they are, and getting more so). The problem is that it
takes more than good technology to make this whole thing work. It takes lots
of different types of companies working together—a digital video “ecosystem,”
if you will.
Cooperation among companies is particularly critical in ensuring that all the
members of the ecosystem are fairly compensated for their contributions. The
companies that own video content want to get paid, of course. Companies that
provide the delivery mechanism also expect to be compensated. But the price
of the content has to be low enough, or consumers won’t buy it. Consumers
also need affordable equipment on which to play the content, so companies that
make end products like set-top boxes also need to be involved. And the content,
delivery system, and end equipment must all be compatible and easy to use. Hence,
companies must agree on the underlying technology, such as which digital rights
management scheme to use.
As in nature, business ecosystems are often complicated structures that don’t
just spring up overnight. So far, the various types of companies pursuing streaming
video products are not functioning as part of a complete ecosystem, each interacting
symbiotically with the others. But the change is coming. We’ve already
seen it happen in digital audio, with Apple’s iPod. The iPod has succeeded
largely because it has a healthy ecosystem: Apple worked with music owners to
provide lots of good content; it offers a player that is compatible with its
content; and it offers the content and the player at reasonable prices. Now
the iPod is ubiquitous. Sooner or later—almost certainly sooner—there
will be a similar success story in digital video.
And it’s not just consumer video products that are gaining momentum;
other digital video applications, such as video surveillance, are starting to
come into their own. Digital video is revolutionizing many industries—and
creating many opportunities in the process.
In this supplement, we tell you about digital video market trends separating
the hot markets from the tepid. We look at one of the most important emerging
video codecs, H.264, and explain how it differs from the widely used MPEG-2
codec. We give you hands-on techniques for developing optimized video software.
And we provide the background you need to select a processor for a video product.
As digital video applications continue to evolve, more and more companies are
awakening to opportunities in this field and are becoming part of a digital
video ecosystem. If yours is one of them—or you want it to be—we
have the information you need.
[Jeff Bier is the president of Berkeley Design Technology Inc. (www.BDTI.com),
the digital signal processing technology analysis and consulting company. Jennifer
Eyre of BDTI contributed to this column.]