How to make standards adopted by industry

Introduction

There are many definitions of standard. In the Webster’s you find a definition of standard as “Something that is established by authority, custom or general consent as a model or example to be followed”, an oldish definition that thinks that people must be directed to their good. In the Encyclopaedia Britannica you find “(A technical specification) that permits large production runs of component parts that are readily fitted to other parts without adjustment”, a definition driven by the idea that manufacturing is helped by the availability of different but compatible suppliers. Closer to my view of standard is another Webster’s definition “a conspicuous object (as a banner) formerly carried at the top of a pole and used to mark a rallying point especially in battle or to serve as an emblem” driven by the idea that everybody can develop a standard but its adoption depends on how satisfactory the proposed standard is to its intended users.

In many cases a standard is the result of the effort spent by a group of people who believe their interests are best served by agreeing to do certain things in an certain way. Agreeing on a standard may require a big effort (in MPEG developing a standard may cost tens of millions of USD to participating companies), but that is nothing compared to the effort required by convincing “other people” that the standard is what they need.

In this article I will present some of the efforts that MPEG has done over its 30+ years to convince “other people” that MPEG standards are what they need.

Convincing other people to adopt a standard is a process

If you think that convincing other industries that, when an MPEG standard, you need a good a marketing effort to get it adopted, you are missing the point. Anybody can put together a decent technical standard. Convincing other industries is a process that accompanies the development of the standard, starting from the moment the idea of a new standard takes shape.

In the early 1990’s all instances of the broadcasting industry – terrestrial, satellite and cable – were technically convinced that digital television was superior to analogue television. There were two problems, however. The first problem was that in some countries the industry espoused digital as an ally why in other countries the industry rejected it as a threat. The second problem was that there were solutions here and there and some attempts at developing standards, but solutions were proprietary and attempts at standards often fraught with rivalries. MPEG had achieved some notoriety with its first (MPEG-1) standard but had to acquire a new credibility vis-à-vis an industry that, already at that time, was worth more that 100 B$ p.a. and was understandably cautious with its decisions.

MPEG succeeded to convince the broadcasting industry, even the reluctant segments of it, namely the European terrestrial broadcasting industry. The deal was to offer its Requirements group as the place where the individual industry segments could express their needs and see them influence the technical developments. Unlike the approach of other bodies where often there is a coalition of interests blocking the requests from other groups based on the mantra “I cannot support this because my business is negatively affected”, MPEG took the opposite approach. All requests were discussed to understand whether they were new or could be folded in previous requests. The space of technical solutions was partitioned in profiles and levels to accommodate requests without negatively affecting others. Finally, when the MPEG-2 standards was completed, MPEG carried out Verification Tests and showed that 6 Mbit/s yielded “composite quality” of standard definition TV and 8 Mbit/s yielded “component quality”.

Credibility is not granted for ever

In the mid-1990’s MPEG had achieved the impossible. It had brought together all segments of the television industry, the package media industry included, and was addressing the studio needs that it satisfied with its 4:2:2 profile. MPEG, however, did not intend to be just the technical arm of the television industry (which, by the way, included audio as well). MPEG intended to fully execute the mission implied by its title “Coding of moving pictures and audio” which meant the “information representation layer” for whatever application domain.

In the mid-1990’s the role that internet would play in the media distribution media was not clear at all and so was the role that mobile networks would play. It was clear, however, that other delivery mechanisms would play a role. These mechanisms were characterised by “low bitrate”, “best effort” etc.

In hindsight trying to extend the hard-won role in the broadcasting industry to this unknown land was a very bold move. That field was antithetic to what MPEG had done so far, namely high quality and guaranteed (to some extent) delivery. Emblematic was the hot discussion around the MPEG-2 transport packetisation that was opposed by old style experts accustomed to rely on frame structure. More important was the fact that new industries, represented by the ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) acronym would play a major role.

MPEG made a big effort to adapt to the new environment. For instance it developed the software copyright disclaimer. The disclaimer eventually became a modified BSD – Berkeley Software Distribution licence, where the modification is contained in an explicit disclaimer that software copyright release does not imply release of patents. Another effort was to develop the file format which became the cornerstone on which the MPEG role in the ICT world was built.

A track record of collaborations

In 30+ years of standards development MPEG has established cooperation with many standards bodies and industry fora. In this chapter I will review some of the most outstanding and fruitful collaborations.

Broadcasting

MPEG has developed standards for broadcasting since its early days (DAB – Digital Audio Broadcasting was one application driving MPEG-1 Audio), Broadcasting continues to be a major customer to this dau. An indicative list of standards groups and industry fora MPEG interacts with is ABU – Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union, ATSC – Advanced Television Systems Committee, Inc., DVB – Digital Video Broadcasting, EBU – European Broadcasting Union, ITU-R SG 6 – Broadcasting Service (terrestrial and satellite), ITU-T SG 9 – Television and sound transmission, SCTE – Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers and DTG – Digital TV Group.

ATSC has adopted MPEG-2 Video, AVC and HEVC. In addition to these standards, DVB has also adopted MPEG-1 and MPEG-2 Audio and AAC. MPEG has referenced a DVB specification for its Media Orchestration standard (MPEG-B part 13). ITU-R and SCTE have adopted several MPEG standards.

Telecommunication

MPEG-1 was driven by the idea of interactive audio-visual services at a bitrate that telcos used to call as primary rate (1.5/2 Mbit/s) that were expected to be offered by ADSL – Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line. Intense interaction with that industry began with MPEG-2 Video which is common text, which means that MPEG-2 Video is verbatim the same as H.222 and H.262. The tight collaboration of MPEG with ITU-T SG 16 – Multimedia services and systems continued with AVC and HEVC, and continues with VVC. The 3 standards are “aligned text” which means that the standards are technically equivalent but not editorially the same. Other related standard such as MPEG-C Part 7 – Supplemental enhancement information messages for coded video bitstreams, and MPEG-CICP Part 2 – Video and Part 4 – Usage of video signal type code points are also aligned text. MPEG is liaising with ITU-T SG 12 – Performance, QoS and QoE

MPEG has an ongoing intense collaboration with 3GPP – the Third Generation Partnership Project, an international organisation issuing standard for the mobile industry. 3GPP has adopted many MPEG standards such as AVC, HEVC, AAC, MP4 File Formay and DASH. MPEG is also liaising with ETSI – European Telecommunication Standards Institute.

Other media-related areas

The world of media is quite articulated and MPEG takes care of establishing contacts, developing standards for or using standards from different environments.

In the area of audio, MPEG has a long-standing liaison with AES – Audio Engineering Society and with SMPTE. MPEG is referencing several SMPTE standards, e.g. those related to HDR – High Dynamic Range.

AVS – Audio and Video Coding Standard Workgroup of China is a group developing audio-visual compression standards for the Chinese market. MPEG has a liaison with AVS.

Immersive media is the future but it is unclear what the future will exactly be. MPEG has developed ARAF – Augmented Reality Application Format and has developed ISO/IEC 21858 – Information model for mixed and augmented reality (MAR) contents jointly with SC 24 – Computer graphics, image processing and environmental data representation.

Fonts

Since the early 2000, MPEG has taken over the baton of the Open Type specification. Open Type was an open specification originally developed by Adobe, Apple and Microsoft. MPEG-OFF – Open Font Format is a standard that is universa;;y used wherever there are displays that are exprected to present fonts.

MPEG is liaising with SC 34 – Document Description and Processing Languages on the matter of fonts.

Information transport

When it developed MPEG-2 Video, MPEG had already the experience of the transport standard that it had developed for MPEG-1. MPEG-2 broadcasting applications could not rely on the assumption that the communication channel was error-free and MPEG had to develop a new standard that it called MPEG-2 Transport Stream (MPEG-2 Systems also defines another transport called MPEG-2 Program Stream aking to MPEG-1 Systems). MPEG-2 Systems is one of the most successful MPEG standards as it is used by broadcasting in all forms (ATSC, DVB, BDA and, before that DVD – Digital Versatile Disc etc.) and is used as a package in IPTV.

ATSC has adopted the full Audio-Video-Systems package offered by MPEG-H. The MPEG-H Systems layer is called MPEG Media Transport (MMT).

The Common Media Application Format (CMAF) is another successful transport standard.

transport standardMPEG has developed the MPEG-2 transport standard for sequences of JPEG 2000 and JPEG XS images.

Another successful media transport standard is MPEG-DASH. This has been adopted by 3GPP, ATSC, DVB and others.

Manufacturing industry

In addition to DAB, MPEG-1 was driven by the idea of a standard for audio-visual applications on CD – compact disc. This eventually was adopted by the industry under the name of Video CD. It was also driven by the idea of a new digital audio distribution format on CC – compact cassette. The CE – Consumer Electronic industry has tight contacts with MPEG via IEC TC 100 –  Audio, Video and Multimedia Systems and Equipment. MPEG is also working with CTA – Consumer Technology Association. MPEG liaises with BDA – Blu-ray Disc Association and BDA has adopted several MPEG standards such as AVC and HEVC.

Genomics

MPEG has developed the 3 parts of MPEG-G – Genomic Information Representation jointly with WG 5 – Data processing and integration of TC 276 – Biotechnology. It is at the last stages of  approval of Parts 4 and 5 and is developing, again jointly with TC 276/WG 5, Part 6 – Genomic Annotation Representation.

In addition to TC 276, MPEG is liaising with TC 215 – Health Informatics and with GA4GH –Global Alliance for Genomics and Health.

Internet of Things

Internet of Things per se is no business for MPEG because SC 41 – Internet of Things is in charge of standardisation in this area. MPEG liaises with SC 41.

MPEG has identified a specific instance of Internet of Things that it calls Internet of Media Things. This considers the specific but important case of a thing that is a camera or a microphone, a display or a loudspeaker, a unit capable of analysing the media content etc. Part 1 of MPEG-IoMT – Architecture is an instance of the general IoT Architecture developed by SC 41.

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence per se is no business for MPEG because SC 42 – Artificial Intelligence is in charge of it. MPEG liaises with SC 41.

MPEG has used an AI technology – Neural Networks – for MPEG-7 Part 15 – Compact Descriptors for Video Analysis (CDVA), is working on MPEG-NNR, Part 17 of MPEG-7 – Compression of neural networks for multimedia content description and analysis. MPEG also plans to make intense use of neural networks for its future Video Coding for Machines standard.

MPEG is also investigating the connections between its Network-Based Media Processing (NBMP) standard, released as FDIS at the January 2020 meeting, and Big Media. Again, MPEG has no business in Big Media, an area of work for SC 42, but NBMP is likely to become an instance of the general Big Media Reference Model developed by SC 42.

Transportation

Data compression seems to have little to do with transportation, but this area of endeavour is more and more influenced by technologies mastered by MPEG. For instance, 3GPP is considering V2X (Vehicle-to-everything) communication, where information moves from a vehicle to any entity that may have a relationship with the vehicle, and vice versa. Specific forms of communication are: V2I (vehicle-to-infrastructure), V2N (vehicle-to-network), V2V (vehicle-to-vehicle), V2P (vehicle-to-pedestrian), V2D (vehicle-to-device) and V2G (vehicle-to-grid).

Audio-visual information is clearly a major user of any such communication forms and MPEG standards are and will be more and more the main sources. Two examples are G-PCC – Geometry-based Point Cloud Compression and VCM – Video Coding for Machines.

MPEG is liaising with ISO TC 22 – Road Vehicles and TC 204 – Intelligent Transport Systems.

Conclusions

Standards lubricates our complex society and allo it to function and make progress. Developing standards is easy, but making sure that standards are adopted is difficult.

MPEG has been successful with the latter because it takes a holistic, end-to-ed approach to standardisation where its partners and customers – standards bodies and industry fora – are parts of standard development.

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