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Summary:

Apple and Microsoft have been indulging in dogfights for decades now. Mac OS versus DOS, and then Mac Vs Windows 3.1. Quicktime versus Windows Media. …. more recently AAC versus Microsoft Janus. And they will be going at each other in the converged home business. While […]

Apple and Microsoft have been indulging in dogfights for decades now. Mac OS versus DOS, and then Mac Vs Windows 3.1. Quicktime versus Windows Media. …. more recently AAC versus Microsoft Janus. And they will be going at each other in the converged home business. While attending the Mac World earlier this year, Steve Jobs was pushing the H.264 standard for high-definition media playback with the same zeal as he pushed the new Mac Mini. It did not make sense at the time, why he devoted so much time, and why he trotted out a Sony executive on stage. Well, a couple of weeks later it all falls into place. In a recent column, John Dvorak wrote:

If H.264 isn’t good enough, then there is the Microsoft VC-1 codec, derived from Windows Media 9 technology. By all accounts, it’s at least as good as, if not better than, H.264. It’s so good that the Blu-ray specification calls for it to be used jointly with H.264…. Manufacturers have to pay for each one installed in every unit. So how long will VC-1 and H.264 coexist in the same boxes when they do the same thing?

Not sure how this could evolve, but seems like actual availability of Microsoft VC-1 based products is still in the near future, while H.264 silicon has started to ship. Broadcom has been pushing H.264 pretty hard because it wants to get a piece of the telecom set-top box market. It says it will support the Microsoft codec when time comes. It might have to since many phone companies are toying with Microsoft backend systems for their television offerings.

H.264 advanced video compression technology. This standards-based technology reduces the required bandwidth for audio and video content to a level that allows telecommunications operators to offer digital quality broadcast services over their existing bandwidth limited digital subscriber networks.

This makes me wonder, why Apple was pushing H.264 so hard? It could be perhaps that it has its own digital media center/PVR plans?

By Om Malik

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  1. One thing to keep in mind is that h.264 is an open standard while the windows codecs are well, Windows.

    The h.264 standard is being adopted by BOTH blue ray and hd-dvd, not just blue ray as Dvorak points to… We don’t know which standard for the next gen DVD will make it but we do know that h.264 is definitely part of the picture.

    One very nice function of h.264 is that it can scale on smaller processor devices as well as massive ones like a G5. So… the Mini might just have a few very nice HD tricks up it’s sleeve when Tiger gets released.

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  2. If anyone has an update, would be much appreciated.

    Comment by Kevin — January 24,2005 @ 9:10 am

  3. Apple is pushing H264 so hard because it simply doesn’t have anything proprietary that can rival VC-1. VC-1 is indeed much better in quality and playback than anything else out there, so the only way to really fight it is to stress the importance of using an open-standard instead. By pushing H264 (which is of “good enough” quality), money stays out of Microsoft’s pocket and that is part of what Apple wants.

    Let it also be known that you can fit an entire high-definition movie on a normal DVD *today* in Windows Media format. And it will play back on machines *today*.

    I am an Apple lover and Microsoft basher, but right now, Microsoft is ahead in this space.

    Comment by Mike D.

    Om,

    The hardware decode chips are the same for VC-1/H.264, just a different set of firmware running on the chips to support each. You can do both if you want to pay two sets of IP licensing fees.

    Sigma Designs (www.sdesigns.com) has a working VC-1 decode chip.

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  • Seems Microsoft may have ’stolen’ some patents in their codec.

    The Register

    The MPEG LA has had 12 separate companies claiming that they have essential patents in the pool it is developing for the licensing of Microsoft’s video codec, dubbed VC 1 under the SMPTE standard (Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers).

    Since Microsoft has never acknowledged any other technology suppliers in its literature on VC 9, it is unlikely that it is currently paying royalties on its current distribution. But it will need to.

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  • MH: You’re quoting a board member of the MPEG Industry forum. Do you think he’s going to speak badly of MPEG4? Furthermore, there’s really nothing bad to say about it anyway… it’s a mighty fine codec as far as I can tell. All I said was that *right now*, VC-1 is the best game in town. Not even by miles… by subjective measures. You can do Windows Media high-def *right now* and it looks great. That’s all I’m saying. Apple has nothing proprietary that can rival this and that’s why they are smartly latching onto H264.

    hmurchison: I personally haven’t run into any DRM issues with WMV HD discs but that’s entirely separate from what we’re talking about.

    I’m personally of the camp that is satisfied with just about all high-def formats. They all look great to me. My only point is that in this race, Microsoft has started off ahead. If open wins in the end (as it tends to these days), MPEG4 wins. If saavy business tactics and smart leveraging wins, VC-1 wins.

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  • If anyone has an update, would be much appreciated.

    Comment by Kevin — January 24,2005 @ 9:10 am

  • Apple is pushing H264 so hard because it simply doesn’t have anything proprietary that can rival VC-1. VC-1 is indeed much better in quality and playback than anything else out there, so the only way to really fight it is to stress the importance of using an open-standard instead. By pushing H264 (which is of “good enough” quality), money stays out of Microsoft’s pocket and that is part of what Apple wants.

    Let it also be known that you can fit an entire high-definition movie on a normal DVD *today* in Windows Media format. And it will play back on machines *today*.

    I am an Apple lover and Microsoft basher, but right now, Microsoft is ahead in this space.

    Comment by Mike D.

    Om,

    The hardware decode chips are the same for VC-1/H.264, just a different set of firmware running on the chips to support each. You can do both if you want to pay two sets of IP licensing fees.

    Sigma Designs (www.sdesigns.com) has a working VC-1 decode chip.