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Danna Bethlehem

H.264: The New MPEG Standard





MPEG-4 Overview
MPEG-4 (ISO14496) is an ISO/IEC standard developed by MPEG (Moving Picture
Experts Group). The first version of the MPEG-4 standard was finalized in October
1998 and became an international standard at the beginning of 1999. Although
defined as one standard, MPEG-4 is actually a set of compression/decompression
formats and streaming technologies that address the need for distributing rich
interactive media over narrow and broadband networks. Since the first MPEG-4
standard was finalized in 1999, there have been several efforts on the part of other
standards bodies to further improve and enhance the existing MPEG-4 standard.

One of these efforts has led to a new MPEG-4 based video compression standard
known as H.264 (also known as MPEG-4 Part 10, MPEG-4 AVC, MPEG-4 JVT or
H.26L (L standing for Long). Finalization of the H.264 standard was approved by a
joint team of experts from the ITU ((International Telecommunications Union) and
the ISO (International Standards Organization). The combined team is known as the
Joint Video Team or JVT. The video compression standard, which the JVT is
working on, will be recommended by the ITU in an ITU-T recommendation and will
be approved by the ISO as an international ISO standard.

H.264: Making MPEG-4 Better

The original MPEG-4 standard was designed to address the following issues:

• Interoperability. The standard is not specific to any one

platform but is designed for all platforms.

• Transport Independence. MPEG-4 leaves the choice of

transport mechanism up to the service provider. This
allows MPEG-4 to be used in a wide range of networking

• Compression and Transmission of Rich Media. MPEG-4

has been designed for the low and mid bit-rate
compression and transmission of rich media streams.

• Interactivity. MPEG-4 allows content authors and viewers

to influence how they interact with a stream.

• Scalability. MPEG-4 allows for flexibility in the way

multimedia streams are decoded. Decoding bit rate and
resolution of content is adapted to the networking
environment and display device. This quality is necessary
when transmitting rich media over heterogeneous
networks, as well as for applications where the receiver is

not capable of displaying the full resolution or full quality

• Profiles. MPEG-4 offers different technology profiles for

different applications. In this way, service providers need
not use the entire set of technologies, but only the sub-
set that suits their applications needs.

The JVT has set out several enhancements, which it wishes to achieve in the H.264
standard. These are:

• To simplify the design using well-known building blocks

• To improve the compression performance and reach a

50% or greater bit rate savings from H.263v2 or MPEG-4
Advanced Simple Profile at all bit rates

• Support a flexible application that is appropriate to a

variety of services, including low delay (e.g., no B
pictures) for real-time conversational services and higher
delay appropriate for storage or sever-based streaming

• Ensure network friendliness through ease of

packetization, information priority control and application
to video streaming services.

• Ensure error resilience through packet loss resilience and

mobile channel corruption resilience.

• Full specification of decoding by resolving the mismatch

problem (e.g., integer transform, VQ,)

• Performance improvements at higher bitrates

• File storage support that includes simple stream

exchange, http streaming service, random access and
multiple streams with transitions.1

Terms of Reference for Joint Video (JVT) Activities, as published on the ITU’s website at

H.264 Profiles

In contrast to MPEG-4 with its many profiles, H.264 has three profiles, as outlined

Profile Target Application Decoder Complexity Estimated

over MPEG-2 Improved
Efficiency over
Baseline Profile Low delay, video 2.5 times more 1.5 times better
phone, complex
Extended Profile mobile, streaming 3.5 times more 1.75 times better
Main Profile Interlaced video 4 times more 2.0 times better2
applications, complex
broadcast, packaged

MPEG-4 uses a compression format known as AAC (Advanced Audio Coding). To
give an idea on AAC’s efficiency: In contrast to MPEG-1 Layer 2 which produces
near CD quality at 128kbit/s/channel, AAC can produce the same results at
64kb/s/channel. AAC supports coding 5.1 and 7.1-channel surround sound
effectively. AAC has recently been extended with a technique called Spectral
Bandwidth Replication, which significantly improves bandwidth savings for
applications like Internet Audio and digital broadcast. AAC with SBR, which is also
known as “High Efficiency AAC”, can deliver high quality stereo audio at 48kbit/s.

AAC Features:

• Multichannel Support: In addition to mono and stereo,

AAC supports various surround sound configurations
(e.g. 5.1 or 7.1 channels), up to 48 audio channels.

• Low Computational Complexity: Most AAC encoder

implementations are real-time capable.

• Wide Application Range: AAC supports a large set of

audio sample rates, ranging from 8 kHz up to 96 kHz,
making it ideal for high quality audio in many applications
with limited channel or memory capacities.

As published on the MP4 (MPEG Industry Forum) at

Optibase’s H.264 Offerings
Optibase's MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 encoding module enables live encoding and
transcoding of next generation CODECs with Optibase's MGW IPTV platforms. The
MPEG-4 AVC module is a high-performance real-time encoder that can process any
analog, digital or DVB (MPEG-2) video input into MPEG-4 AVC. This module is part
of a system specifically designed to address applications where high availability, full
redundancy and no single point of failure are all crucial parameters.

Key Features
Codec Flexibility

Each MPEG-4 module utilizes a strong set of on-board state-of-the-art DSP

processors with the ability to encode and multiplex video and audio streams based
on the MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 industry standard. The MPEG-4 module is software
upgradeable to other next generation algorithms such as VC1.

MPEG-2 DVB-ASI Transcoding

Service providers that already support MPEG-2 signals from satellite TV feeds can
now process these same channels into MPEG-4 AVC without changing their existing
head-end infrastructure. The MPEG-4 AVC module has on-board transcoding
capabilities and requires no additional video decoding or processing components.

Carrier-grade Design

Each module in Optibase's IPTV platforms is a stand-alone unit, controlled through a

dual-star IP backplane and totally independent from other encoding modules. A real-
time operating system controls each module separately, assuring constant
streaming of live TV content. Modules can be configured to 1+1 and N+K
redundancy according to application demands. All parts are hot swappable and
support hot-standby redundancy.

Main and Baseline Profile

Through its ability to encode Baseline and Main profiles, the same MPEG-4 AVC module can
address low resolution and low bit-rate applications. The Baseline profile provides very low
latency (mandatory for military and surveillance applications) and dramatically low video bit-
rates (ideal for mobile and PC streaming).