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Despite ITU nod, China IPTV codec's future unclear

Posted: 29 Sep 2006 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:audio/video codec? codec? codecs? Audio Video Coding Standard? AVS?

A domestically developed audio/video codec known as Audio Video Coding Standard (AVS) is being considered as part of a global IPTV standard being drafted by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). Still, some of China's largest companies appear to be turning their back on it.

On Wednesday (Sept. 27), China's second largest telecom carrier, China Telecom, and its largest telecom equipment maker, Huawei Technologies, gave the strongest indication yet that they prefer H.264 over AVS. "H.264 is low cost and the best option for IPTV," said Frank Caruso, a senior analyst at Huawei. Linde Zhang, vice general manager of China Telecom subsidiary Shanghai Telecom, added: "For now, H.264 is a more mature a standard."

Despite its approval in March as a Chinese national standard, AVS has yet to gain significant traction in the market. Domestic telecom companies, including China Telecom, so far seem to favor H.264. But Huang Tiejun, secretary of the AVS working group, disagreed, claiming that there is budding support for AVS.

China's other major wireline telecom company, China Netcom, ran a successful AVS trial despite its earlier deployment of H.264 in Beijing, Huang said, adding that in November Netcom will start another round of AVS tests in a coastal city with the aim of commercialization.

Huang said AVS and H.264 are about the same in terms of technical performance, but some chip makers have privately said they remain skeptical. Unlike MPEG-4/H.264, however, the AVS group probably will not charge "participation fees" to use the codec for subscription-based services, over-the-air free broadcasts or duplication of content on a title-by-title basis.

Despite what appears to be a setback for AVS, it has progressed within the ITU. The fact that AVS is a candidate is a positive acknowledgement of the technology, but does not mean it will be widely used in or outside of China. It will still have to compete with the more mature H.264 that has so far dominated IPTV roll outs using advanced codecs.

The slow pace of IPTV rollouts and proprietary nature of the systems spurred the ITU to step in last April to coordinate standards efforts, but the move has been met with mixed reactions. ITU is seeking to build on the work of other standards groups to create a base platform specification that would define aspects such as quality-of-service, security, network and control aspects, set-top boxes, interoperability, middleware and application platforms.

The Chinese Academy of Sciences has been working on compression technologies for several years. It decided to fast-track the commercialization of AVS in 2002. Despite claims that AVS will save Chinese manufacturers and consumers hundreds of millions of dollars in royalties over the next decade, it's not clear yet how great savings will be, especially if AVS is not widely deployed.

- Cai Yan
EE Times
-Mike Clendenin in Taipei contributed to this story

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