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AVS has yet to gain traction in China

Posted: 02 Oct 2006 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:standards? A/V codec? IPTV? H.264? IPTVs?

Despite its approval in March as a Chinese national standard, an A/V codec known as AVS Part 2 has yet to gain traction in the market. Instead, two of China's largest Internet Protocol TV (IPTV) deployments have opted for H.264.

Backers of AVS believe this will change soon, saying that, so far, China's deployments of IPTV are only tests. Nevertheless, Shanghai Telecom is building a network for 100,000 viewers, while Beijing Netcom is planning one for 50,000, both using H.264. A third network being planned in Wuhan is also said to be leaning toward H.264.

"AVS is under testing in some areas, but the scale is not as large," said Huang Tienjun, secretary general of the AVS working group. "But there should be an AVS commercial system for IPTV within the next year." Satellite TV systems are also being tested, he said.

The Chinese Academy of Sciences has been working on compression technologies for several years, and 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 whether the total will range that high.

Initially, some of those claims were based on comparisons with MPEG-2. If a comparison is made between decoder royalties for AVS and MPEG-4/H.264, then the cost is roughly the same. Unlike MPEG-4/H.264, however, the AVS group probably would not charge "participation fees" to use the codec for subscription-based services, over-the-air free broadcast or duplication of content on a title-by-title basis. That could provide a savings.

Earlier this year, chipmakers like STMicroelectronics and LSI Logic said they were watching the AVS standard, but did not have immediate plans to support it without a clear signal from telecom or satellite operators that they would use it.

So far, China Telecom seems to lean toward H.264. But China's other major wired telecom company, China Netcom, may be willing to be a test case, despite its earlier deployment in Beijing of H.264.

Last month, the AVS group requested its codec be considered by the International Telecommunication Union's focus group on IPTV. ITU is considering the proposal, which is backed by Netcom and others.

Not everyone sees Netcom switching over purely to cut costs, arguing that the money saved in "participation fees" would be dwarfed by the cost to switch systems. The greater economy of scale and lower pricing of H.264-based systems, which are usually subsidized by operators, would likely overshadow savings from not paying H.264-based transmission fees, said Mark Natkin, the Beijing-based managing director of Marbridge Consulting.

- Mike Clendenin
EE Times

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