Video-Compression Breakthrough Announced

Last week, in a statement coinciding with the International Broadcasting Convention taking place in Amsterdam, Equator Technologies and Snell & Wilcox announced that they have developed what they describe as the world's first end-to-end, optimized digital video platform enabling low-cost consumer products to deliver "better-than-VHS-quality" video at sub-megabit bandwidths. The companies claim that the newly developed technology, which they have dubbed "VHS-plus/Megabit-minus," will be available near the end of 2000.

In making the announcement, Snell & Wilcox's Kevin Melia stated that "the holy grail, if you will, is to produce convincing pictures at a low bandwidth. The target of less than a megabit is what we've been working on with Equator. This achievement is pretty spectacular . . . we're not saying VHS is a superb quality, but it is a target everyone understands; it's an acceptable level. The main application is video-on-demand over telephone lines. It's the most exciting application, because prior to this it's not been possible to do this."

The company's David Youlton adds that "we've brought our experience in broadcast-quality video processing to broadband media delivery. Our technology, coupled with Equator's MAP-CA processor in the set-top box, allows us to deliver for the first time a video experience superior to VHS at sub-megabit bandwidths. Alternative solutions using fixed-function MPEG-2 codecs require twice the bandwidth of the MAP-CA solution."

According to market analyst Richard Doherty, director of research for The Envisioneering Group, "the video quality that Snell & Wilcox and Equator have demonstrated at just 800kbits is amazing—better than VHS quality. Adopting this technology, broadband system operators can now provide customers with a quality video experience at half the bandwidth of competing fixed-function solutions. What this means to consumers is both greater program variety and higher-quality content. Cable and wireless operators benefit from both increased subscriber choice and reduced carriage costs. DSL system operators for the first time can offer quality video over real-world ADSL links. In each instance, this technology allows operators to get to market faster and to reach larger audiences. As the MAP-CA is a programmable platform, operators can remotely reconfigure and upgrade set-top boxes, avoiding costly truck rolls.''