Can MPEG survive? And if so, how?


Human beings and organisation that result from human endeavours are complex living organisms that live and expand because they have internal forces driving their development. Both types of organism, however operate in environments populated by other organisms which variously affect them.

Today 7.5 billion human organisms are under the threat of Covid-19 viral pandemic that is taking a terrible and growing toll of deaths and economic hardships. Organisms created by human, too, are subjects to the influence of other organisms, some operating synergistically and some antagonistically. MPEG is no exception.

This article will explore the state of health of the MPEG organism and its chances of survival.

What is driving the MPEG organism

In general organisms created by human endeavours are different from one another. Their nature depends on who created them, for what purpose, in which environment etc. MPEG, I must say, is probably more different than most.

Industry-independent standards

MPEG was created to give a chance to the use of video compression in products and services, as video communication had proved not to be an attractive business proposition. It started (MPEG-1) as a mix of Telecommunication and Consumer Electronics, two industries who did not have, 30 years ago, much to share business-wise. This original mix explains why MPEG standards have rigorously a normative conformance testing specification without any associated authorised testing laboratory.

With MPEG-2 broadcasting concurred to shaping the MPEG organism and, with MPEG-4, IT joined and shaped MPEG. The miracle recipe is that MPEG standards have been able to satisfy the needs of industries that used to be – and now, because of MPEG, less so – oceans apart. The result has been that different industries could design products that were interoperable with those of other industries. They could access the compression technology without discrimination, independently of their belonging to a particular industry or a particular country.

Business model

MPEG expanded thanks to its business model based on the best compressed media quality at a given time at the costs of introducing a potentially large amount of patents owned by different entities. The MPEG model is radically different than the JPEG model. The two JPEG successful standards – the original JPEG and JPEG2000 – are both based on a baseline Option 1 (that people outside of ISO would call royalty free) with additional encumbered profiles.

From the bottom

The two elements are not sufficient to explain the wild success of MPEG standards. The third element is the lowly MPEG status. MPEG is a working group (WG), an entity not allowed to make “decisions”, but only to propose recommendations to be approved by other entities sitting above it. This is the formality, but the practice is different. The MPEG working groups has competence on (compression of) all media types (actually, even more than just “media”), is populated by Industries and Companies with a stake in media, and by Academia and Research. It identifies standards opportunities using technology as scale, but technology as handled by a large number of extremely competent experts from the industries and companies that matter.

If MPEG had been an entity above WG, it would have been driven by political considerations which would have led to project of standards aligned to the politics of the committee. This would have produced less standards, less successes, less technology and more national/industry interests.

No central decision

The fourth element is that in MPEG there is no centralised decision point. It is an environment where interests aggregate around proposals that come from members. When those interests reach a certain threshold, they have the opportunity to become MPEG projects.

MPEG has the unique recipe to define technology-driven projects of standards first, adding corporate and national interests later, if they pass through the sieve of the technical requirements analysis.

Antagonistic organisms

MPEG is an organism living in an environment populated by other organisms. Many application-oriented standards and industry fora need compression standards for media (and other data) but understand that compression is an extremely specialised field that it would be foolish to compete with. These are the synergistic organisms, however, there are organisms who play an antagonistic role. We should not say that they are evil. Covid-19 is no more, no less evil than a computer virus displaying “I am erasing your hard disk. Nothing personal” while it destroys years of efforts embedded in your hard disk.

Grabbing pieces

MPEG produces standards for the vast field for which it has competence. However, there are minor organisms who think that, if they could grab some pieces of the MPEG field, they would be able to emulate the success of MPEG standards. Of course they do not understand that a successful standard does not just depend on what the standard is about, but on the ecosystem that produces it and the paths leading to those who will use it.

Getting control

MPEG has become large and exert a vast influent but, as I argued in Who “owns” MPEG? And Who “decides” in MPEG? no one has really a control of, a stake in or an influence on MPEG. This is unusual because bodies like MPEG are typically under the influence of some company or industry or country.

MPEG is an appetising morsel for any organisms out there.

Removing competition

A standard is seldom just a technical specification. It is typically the technical arm that supports a business model. The MPEG business model is rather neutral. It is an assembly of technology “sold” at a price without strings attached. There are plenty of other business models. Possibly at the other extreme the GNU General Public License stipulates certain obligations on the use of an assembly of technology expressed in a computer language.

It is only natural that organisms with different business models may wish to wipe out a competitor like MPEG.

Immune reaction

The DNA of the MPEG organism has driven the expansion of MPEG beyond the traditional digital media field. MPEG has already proven that it is capable of applying its methodology to other fields such as compression of genomic data. MPEG is not new to the introduction of foreign bodies into itself. As I said above, MPEG started as an excrescence of the Telecommunication industry combined with the Consumer Electronic industry, later combined with the Broadcasting and IT industry.

So far the reaction of the MPEG immune system was suppressed, but it is not clear whether that suppression will continue to be effective if major injections of foreign bodies will continue.

Autoimmune reaction

The cells that compose the MPEG organism are having different reactions to the success of the MPEG organism. The MPEG business model – one could call it the “MPEG DNA” – produces results, but some cells inside MPEG operate against the success of that business model.

MPEG has developed enzymes to cut and paste its DNA to inject new business model code, but the jury of that operation is still out.

Adapt or die

At the risk of playing down the important successes of the past, one could say that, so far, MPEG has largely worked in known land. If we discard some “minor details”, the requirements of the VVC standard, which we all hope will be released as FDIS on the 3rd of July or another date close to it, are not so different than the MPEG-1 Video requirements. Sure, we have higher definition, higher frame rates, higher chrominance, higher dynamic range, 360⁰ and more. However, MPEG has consistently handled rectangular video. Something similar can be said of audio. 3D Graphics is offering new domains such as Point Cloud Compression. The MPEG-2 Transport Stream addressed different problems that the MP4 file format, but both are transport issues.

Immersive media is a different beast. This is technically not a new land, because MPEG has tried working on immersive visual media before. Without much success, however. Waves of new technologies come and go with new promises.

Viruses and national policies

Even before the coming of the Covid-19 virus, there was a clear trend toward a comeback of country- and industry-driven standard compartments that MPEG had successfully fought by imposing its own model based on global – country and industry – standards.

The reaction of countries to the global Covid-19 threat show that countries are unable to pool common resources to face common threats. Every country is going its own way.

The MPEG organism can well die because there will be a dearth of food (i.e. proposals of new standards) because all food will go to the local organisms.

How can MPEG survive?

I see four possible futures for MPEG

  1. Retain MPEG. The MPEG model is tested and vital, if it is allowed to continue.
  2. Clone MPEG. Take over the MPEG model and reproduce it in another environment.
  3. Mimic MPEG. Develop another model working as well as MPEG.
  4. Balkanise MPEG. The MPEG work space is divided into national, industry and business model subspaces.


There should be no doubt that my preference goes to “Retain MPEG”. However, this may be difficult to realise because so many hostile organisms are acting against MPEG.

My second best is to “Clone MPEG” and let it operate in a different environment. I expect this to require a huge effort. However, things may be facilitated by the choice of the environment and by the collaboration of those who believe in the plan.

I can only define the option of “Mimic MPEG”, i.e. to develop and implement a model alternative to MPEG that works as a dream. Some people like it hot, some others like to think their dreams as reality.

“Balkanise MPEG ” is the natural consequence of the “Mimic MPEG” dream gone sour.

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Quality, more quality and more more quality

Quality measurement is an essential ingredient of the MPEG business model that targets the development of the best performing standards that satisfy given requirements.

MPEG was not certainly the first to discover the importance of media quality assessment. Decades ago, when still called Comité Consultatif International des Radiocommunications (CCIR), ITU-R developed Recommendation 500  – “Methodologies for the subjective assessment of the quality of television images”. This recommendation guided the work of television labs for decades. It was not possible, however, to satisfy all MPEG needs with BT.500, the modern name of CCIR Recommendation 500, for three main reasons: MPEG needed methods to assess the impact of coding on video quality, MPEG dealt with a much wider range of moving pictures than television and MPEG ended up dealing with more than just 2D rectangular moving pictures.

Video quality assessment in MPEG began in November 1989 at the research laboratories of JVC in Kuriyama when all aspects of the responses to the MPEG-1 Call for Proposals (CfP), including quality, were considered. Two years later MPEG met again in Kurihama to consider the responses to the MPEG-2 CfP. At that time the assessment of video quality was done using the so-called Double-stimulus impairment scale (DSIS) using a 5-grade impairent scale. In both tests massive use of digital D1 tapes was made to deliver undistorted digital video to the test facility. The Test subgroup led by the chair Tsuneyoshi Hidaka managed all the logistics of D1 tapes coming from the 4 corners of the worls.

The MPEG Test chair could convince the JVC management to offer free use of the testing facilities for MPEG-1. However, he could not achieve the same for MPEG-2. Therefore MPEG-2 respondents were asked to pay for the tests. Since then participation in most if not all subjective tests campaigns has been subject to the payment of a fee to cover the use of facilities and/or the human subjects who were requested to view the video sequences under test. The MPEG-1 and MPEG-2 tests were carried out in the wake of Recommendation BT.500.

The MPEG-4 tests, carried out in 1995, fundamentally changed the scope because the CfP addressed Multimedia contents, i.e.  progressively scanned moving images typically at lower resolution than TV which was supposed to be transmitted over noisy channels (videophone over fixed subscriber line or the nascent mobile networks). The statistical processing of subjective data applied to the MPEG-4 CfP was innovated by the use of ANOVA (analysis of variance), because until then tests only used simple mean value and Grand Mean, i.e. the mean value computed considering the scores assigned to several video sequences.

The use of Statistically Significant Difference (SSD) allowed a precise ranking of the technologies under test. Traditional test methods (DSIS and SS) were used together with the new Single Stimulus Continuous Quality Evaluation (SSCQE) test method to evaluate “long” video sequences of 3 minutes measure how well a video compression technology could recover from transmission errors. The tests were carried out using the D1 digital professional video recorder and Professional Studio Quality “grade 1” CRT displays.

The Digital Cinema test, carried out in 2001 at the Entertainment Technology Centre (ETC) of the University of Southern California, was designed to evaluate cinematic content in a real theatrical environment, i.e. on a 20 m base perforated screen, projected by a cinema projector fed with digital content. The subjective evaluations were done with three new test methods: The Expert Viewing Test (EVT), a two steps procedure, where the results of a DSIS test were refined by means of careful observation by a selected number of “golden eye” observations, the Double Stimulus Perceived Difference Scale (DSPDS), a double stimulus impairment detection test method using a 5 grades impairment scale and the Double Stimulus Split-Screen Perceived Difference Scale (S3PDS), a test method based on a split screen approach where both halves of the screen were observed in sequence.

The test for the Call for New Tools to Further Improve Coding Efficiency were done using traditional test methods and the same methodology and devices of the MPEG 4 Call for Proposal. The test demonstrated the existence of a new technology in video compression and allowed the collaboration between ISO and ITU-T in the area of digital video coding to resume. This was the first test to use the 11-grade impairment scale, that became a reference for DSIS and the SS test experiments, and provided a major improvement in result accuracy.

A new test method – the VSMV-M Procedure – was designed in 2004 to assess the submission received for the Core Experiment for the Scalable Video Coding. The Procedure was made of two phases: a “controlled assessment” phase and a “deep analysis” phase. The first phase was made according to the DSIS and SS test methods and a second phase, designed by MPEG, where a panel of experts confirmed the ranking obtained running the evaluation done with formal subjective assessment. These test were the first to be entirely based on digital video servers and DLP projector. Therefore, 15 years after they were first used in the MPEG-1 tests, D1 tapes were finally put to rest.

The SVC Verification Tests carried out in 2007, represented another important step in the evolution of the MPEG testing methodology. Two new test methods were designed: the Single Stimulus Multi-Media (SSMM) and the Double Stimulus Unknown Reference (DSUR). The SSMM method minimised the contextual effect typical of the Single Stimulus (SS) and the DSUR was derived from the Double Stimulus Impairment Scale (DSIS) Variant II introduced some of the advantages of the Double Stimulus Continuous Quality Scale (DSCQS) method in the DSIS method avoiding the tricky and difficult data processing of DSCQS.

The Joint Call for Proposals on Video Compression Technology (HECV) covered 5 different classes of content, with resolutions ranging from WQVGA (416×240) to 2560×1600, in two configurations (low delay and random access) for different classes of target applications. It was a very large test effort because it was done on a total of of 29 submissions that lasted 4 months and involved 3 laboratories which assessed more than 5000 video files and hired more than 2000 non-expert viewers. The ranking of submissions was done considering the Mean Opinion Square (MOS) and Confidence Interval (CI) values. A procedure was introduced to check that the results provided by different test laboratories were consistent. The results of the three laboratories included a common test set that allowed to measure the impact of a laboratory on the results of a test experiment.

A total of 24 complete submissions were received in response to the Joint Call for Proposal on 3D Video Coding (stereo and auto-stereo) issued in 2012. For each test case each submission produced 24 files representing the different viewing angle. Two sets of two and three viewing angles were blindly selected to synthesise the stereo and auto-stereo test files. The test was done on standard 3D displays (with glasses) and auto stereoscopic displays. A total of 13 test laboratories took part in the test running a total of 224 test sessions, hiring around 5000 non expert viewers. The test applied a full redundancy scheme, where each test case was run by two laboratories to increase the reliability and the accuracy of the results. The ranking of the submissions was done considering the MOS and CI values. This test represented a further improvement in the control of performances of each test laboratory. The test could ensure full result recovery in the case of failure of up to 6 out of 13 testing laboratories.

The Joint CfP for Coding of Screen Content was issued to extend the HEVC standard in order to improve the coding performance of typical computer screen content. Whent it became clear that the set of test conditions defined in the CfP was not suitable to obtain valuable results, the test method was modified from the original “side by side” scheme, to a sequential presentation scheme. The complexity of the test material led to the design of an extremely accurate and long training of the non-expert viewers. Four laboratories participated in the formal subjective assessment test, assessing and ranking the seven responses to the CfP. More than 30 test sessions were run (including the “dry-run” phase) hiring around 250 non-expert viewers.

The CfP on Point Cloud Coding was issued to assess coding technologies for 3D point coulds. MPEG had no experience (but actually no one had) in assessing the visual quality of point clouds. MPEG projected the 3D point clouds to 2D spaces and evaluated the resulting 2D video according to formal subjective assessment protocols. The video clips were produced using a rendering tool that generated two different video clips for each of the received submissions, under the same creation conditions. Both were rotating views of 1) a fixed synthesised image and 2) a moving synthesised video clips. The rotations were blindly selected.

The CfP for Video Compression with Capability beyond HEVC included three test categories, for which different test methods had to be designed. The Standard Dynamic Range category was a  compression efficiency evaluation process where the classic DSIS test method was applied with good results. The High Dynamic Range category required two separate sessions, according to the peak luminance of the video content taken into account, i.e. below (or equal to) 1K nits and above 1K nits (namely 4K nits); in both cases DSIS test method was used. The quality of the 360° category was assessed in a “viewport” extracted from the whole 360° screen with an HD resolution.

When the test was completed, the design of the 36 “SDR”, 14 “HDR” and 8 “360°” test sessions was verified. For each test session the distribution of the raw quality scores assigned during each session was analysed to verify that the level of visual quality across the many test sessions was equally distributed.

This was a long but still incomplete review of 30 years of subjective visual quality in MPEG. This ride across 3 decades should demonstrate that MPEG draws from established knowledge to create new methods that are functional to obtain the resulst MPEG is seeking. It should also show the level of effort invovled in actually assigning task, coordinate the work and produce integrated results that provide the responses. Most important is the level of human participation involved: 2000 people (non experts) for the HEVC tests!


Many thanks to the MPEG Test chair Vittorio Baroncini for providing the initial text of this article. Many parts of the activities described here were conducted by him as Test chair.

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Developing MPEG standards in the viral pandemic age


For 30 years industry has been accustomed to rely on MPEG as the source of standards the industry needs. In 30 years MPEG has held a record 129 meetings, roughly spaced by 3 months.

What happens if MPEG130 is not held? Can industry afford it?

In this article I will try and answer this non so hypothetical question.

An MPEG meeting (physical)

In Looking inside an MPEG meeting I have illustrated the “MPEG cycle” workflow using the figure below

At the plenary session of the previous N-1th meeting, MPEG approves the results achieved and creates some 25 Ad hoc Groups (AhGs). Taking one example from MPEG129, each AhG has a title (Compression of Neural Networks for Multimedia Content Description and Analysis), chairs (Werner Bailer, Sungmoon Chun and Wei Wang) and a set of mandates:

  1. Collect more diverse types of models and test data for further use cases, working towards a CfP for incremental network representation
  2. Perform the CEs and analyse the results
  3. Improve the working draft and test model
  4. Continue analyzing the state of the art in NN compression and exchange formats
  5. Continue interaction with SC42, FG ML5G, NNEF, ONNX and the AI/ML community

Work is carried out during the typical ~3 months between the end of the N-1th and the next Nth meeting using e-mail reflector or conference calls or, less frequently, physical meetings. Documents are shared by AhG members using the MPEG Document Management System (MDMS).

When the date of the next meeting approaches, AhGs wrap up their conclusions and many of them hold physical meetings on the week-end prior to the “MPEG week”.

On the Monday morning of the MPEG week, AhGs report their results to the MPEG plenary. In the afternoon, subgroups (Requirements, Systems, Video, Joint groups with ITU, Audio, 3DG and Test) hold short plenaries after which Break-out Groups (BoGs), often a continuation of AhGs, carry out their work interspersed with joint meetings of subgroups and BoGs.

Two more plenaries are held: on Wednesday morning to make everybody aware of what has happened in groups a member might not have had the opportunity to attend and on Friday afternoon to ratify or, if necessary, reconsider, decisions made by the subgroups.

The Convenor and the Chairs meet at night to assess progress and coordinate work between subgroups and BoGs. A typical function is the identification of joint meetings.

ICT at the service of MPEG

Some 500 people are involved in an MPEG week, At times some 10-15 meeting sessions are held in parallel.

Most of this is possible because of the ICT facilities MPEG prides itself of. Developed by Christian Tulvan, they run on servers made available by Institut Mines Télécom.

Currently the MPEG Meeting Support System (MMSS) includes a calendar where subgroup chairs record all subgroup and BoG sessions adding a description of the topics to be discussed. The figure below gives a snapshot of the MMSS calendar. This of course has several views to serve different needs.

In Digging deeper in the MPEG work, I described MDMS and MMSS. Originally deployed in 1995, MDMS has been one of the greatest contributors to MPEG’s skyrocketing rise in performance. In addition to providing the calendar, MMSS also enables the collation of all results produced by the galaxy of MPEG organisational units depicted below.

The third ICT support is the MPEG Workplan Management System (MWMS). This provides different views of the relevant information on MPEG standards that is needed to execute the workplan.

MPEG online?

Now imagine, and probably you don’t have to stretch you imagination too much, that physical meetings of people are banned but industry requests are so pressing that a meeting must be held, no matter what, because product and service plans depend so much on MPEG standards.

MPEG is responding to this call of duty and is attempting the impossible by converting its 131st (physical) meeting of 500 experts to a full online meeting retaining as much as possible the modus operandi depicted in the figures above.

In the following I will highlight how MPEG is facing what is probably its biggest organisational challenge ever.

The first issue to be considered is that, no matter how skilfully MPEG will handle its first online meeting, productivity is going to be less than a physical meeting could yield. This is because by and large the majority of the time of a physical MPEG meeting is dedicated to intense technical discussions in smaller (and sometimes not so small) groups. At an online meeting, such discussions will at best be a pale replica of the physical meeting where experts are pressed by the number and the complexity of the issues, the argument they make, the little time available, the need to get to a conclusion and a clumsier handling of the interventions.

MPEG is facing this challenge by asking AhGs to come to the online meeting with much more solid conclusions than usual so that the results that will be brought to the online meeting will be more mature and will require less debate to be adopted. This has generated a surge in conference calls by the groups who are more motivated by the need to achieve firm results at the next meeting.

Another way to face the challenge is by being realistic in what is achievable at an online meeting, Issues that are very complex and possibly less urgent will be handled with a lower priority or not considered at all, of course if the membership agrees. Therefore the management will set the meeting goals, balancing urgency, maturity and achievability of results. Of course experts, individually or via AhGs, will have an opportunity to make themselves heard.

Yet another way to face the challenge is by preparing a very detailed assignment of time slots to issues during the entire week in advance of the MPEG week. So far this was done only partially because MPEG allowed as much time as possible to experts to prepare and upload their contributions for others to study and to be ready to discuss at the meeting. This has always forced the chairs to prepare their schedule at the last minute or even during the week as the meeting unfolds. This time MPEG asks its experts to submit their contributions one full week before with an extended abstract to facilitate the task of the chairs who have to understand tens and sometimes hundreds of contributions and properly assign them to homogeneous sessions.

The schedules will balance the need to achieve as many results as possible (i.e. parallel sessions) with giving the opportunity to as many members as possible to attend (i.e. sequential sections).

The indefatigable Christian Tulvan, the mind and the arm behind MDMS and MMSS, is currently working to extend MMSS to enable the chairs to add the list of documents to be considered and to create online session reports shared with and possibly co-edited by session participants.

So far MPEG has been lenient most of the time to late contributions (accepted if there is consensus to review the contribution). This time late contributions will simply not be considered.

No matter how good the forecast will be, It is expected that the schedule will change while the week progresses. If a change during the meeting is needed, it will be announced at least 24 hours in advance.

The next big challenge is the fact that MPEG is a truly global organisation. We do not have Hawaiian experts in attendance, but we do have experts from Australia (East Coast) to the USA (West Coast). That makes a total of 19 time zones. Therefore MPEG130 online will be conducted in 3 time slots starting at 05:00, 13:00 and 21:00 (times are GMT). The sessions inside will have durations less than 2 hours followed by a break.


Last but not least. MPEG is confident that the current emergency will be called off soon. The situation we are facing, however, is new and we simply don’t know when it will be over and if it will be for once or if this is just the first of future pandemics.

With MPEG130 online, MPEG not only wants to respond to the current industry needs, but also to fine tune its processes in an online context to be always ready to serve the industry and the people industry serves, no matter which are the external circumstances.

I don’t underestimate the challenge MPEG is facing with MPEG130 online, but I know I can rely on a dedicated leadership and membership.

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The impact of MPEG on the media industry

MPEG was established as an experts group on 1988/01/22 in Copenhagen, a little more that 32 tears ago. At that time, content media were already very important: voice communication; vinyl, compact cassettes, compact discs for audio; radio, mostly on terrestrial Hertzian channels; and television on 4 physical media: terrestrial Hertzian channels, satellite, cable and package media.

The way individual media evolved was a result of the technology adopted to represent content media and the way content media were distributed. Industry shared some elements of the technologies but each industry introduced many differences. The situation was further exacerbated by different choice made by different countries and regions, sometimes justified by the fact that some countries introduced a technology earlier (like 415 lines of UK TV before WW II and 525 lines od US TV some years later). In some other cases there was no justification at all.

The figure below represents the actors of 1988:

  1. Two forms of wireless radio and television (terrestrial and satellite)
  2. Wired radio and television (cable)
  3. Physical distribution (package media)
  4. Theatrical movies distribution
  5. Content industry variously interconnected with the distribution industries.

The figure includes also two industries who, at that time, did not have an actual business in content distribution. Telecommunications was actively vying for a future role (although at that time some telcos were running cable television services as a separate business from telephony both as public services). The second industry was information technology. Few at that time expected that the internet protocol, an outcome of the information technology industry because it was designed to enable computers to communicate, would become the common means to transport media. However, eventually that is what it did.

The figure should be more articulated. Indeed it does not include manufacturers. At that time consumer electronics served users of the broadcasting service but broadcasting had their own manufacturing industry for the infrastructure. Consumer electronics was by itself the package media industry. Telcos had a manufacturing industry of their own for the infrastructure and a separate manufacturing industry for terminal devices, with some consumer electronics or office equipment companies providing facsimile terminals.

Even though it did not happen overnight, MPEG came, saw and unified. Today all the industries in the figure maintain a form of individual existence but they are much more integrated, as represented by the figure below.

Industry convergence has become a much abused word. However, it is true that standard and efficient digital media have enabled the industries to achieve enormous savings in moving to digital, and expanding from it, by allowing reuse of common components possibly form hitherto remote industries. A notable example is Media Transport (MMT) which provides the means to seamlessly move from one-way to two-way media distribution because IP is the underlying common protocol.

There is a net result from convergence that can be described as two points

  1. Industry: MPEG-enabled products (devices) & services are worth 1.5 T$ p.a., i.e. ~1.8% Gross World Product
  2. Consumers: Billions of consumers enjoy media every time and everywhere.

It would be silly to claim that this is a result for which MPEG is the only one to claim merit. There are many other standards bodies/committees who share in this result. The figure below shows some of them. It should be cleat, however, that, all started from MPEG while other bodies took over from where MPEG has left the technology.

Two words about the semantics of the figure. A black line without arrows signifies that MPEG is in liaison with the body. A black line with one arrow means that MPEG is providing or has provided standards to that body. A black line with two arrows means that the interchange is/has been two way. Finally a red line means that MPEG has actually developed standards with that body. The numbers refer to the number of jointly developed standards. The number after the + indicates the number of standards MPEG is currently developing jointly with that body.

Is there a reason why MPEG has succeeded? Probably more than one, but primarily I would like to mention one: MPEG has created standards for interoperability where industry used to develop standards for barriers. Was MPEG unique in its driving thoughts? No, it just applied the physiocratic principle “laissez faire, laissez passer” (let them do, let them pass), without any ideological connotation. Was MPEG unique in how it did it? Yes, because it first applied the principle to media standard. Was MPEG unique in its result? Yes. It created a largely homogeneous industry in what used to be scattered and compartmentalised industries.

It is easy to look at the success of the past. It is a nice exercise to do when you have reached the end of the path, but this is not the case of MPEG. Indeed MPEG has a big challenge: after it has done the impossible, people expects to do even better in the future. And MPEG has better not fail 🙁

The figure below depicts some of the challenges MPEG faces in the next few years.

A short explanation of the 8 areas of the figure:

  1. Maintenance of ~180 standards is what MPEG needs to do primarily. Industry has adopted MPEG standards by the tens, but that is not the end point, that is the start. Industry continuously expresses needs that come from the application of MPEG standards it has adopted. These requests must be attended to.
  2. Immersive media is one of the biggest challenges faced by MPEG. We all wish to have immersive experience like being physically here but feeling like we were at a different place subject to the experiences felt by those who are in that place. The challenges are immense. Addressing them requires a level on integration with the industry never seen before.
  3. Media for old and new users conveys two notions. The first that “old” media are not going to die anytime soon. We will need conventional audio, good old 2D rectangular video and, even though it is hard to call them as “old media”, point clouds. These media are for human users, but we see the appearance of a new type of user – machines – that are going to make use of audio and visual information that has been transmitted from remote. This goal includes the current Video Coding for Machines (VCM) exploration.
  4. Internet of Media Things is a standard that MPEG has already developed with the acronym IoMT. At this moment, however, this is more at the level of a basic infrastructure on which it will be possible to build support for such ambitious scenarios as Video Coding for Machines where media information is captured and processes by a network of machines assembled or built to achieve a predetermined goal.
  5. Neural Network Compression (NNR) is another component of the same scenario. The current assumption is that in the future a lot, if not all, of the “traditional” processing, e.g. for feature extraction, will accomplished using neural network and that components of “intelligence” will be distributed to devices, e.g. handheld devices but also IoMTs, to enable them to be a better or a new job. NNR is at its infancy in MPEG and much more from it can be expected.
  6. Genomic Data Compression has been shown to be viable by the MPEG-G standard. The notion of a single representation of a given type of data is a given in MPEG and has been the foundation of its success. That notion is alien to the genomic world where different data formats are applied at different portions of genomic workflows, but its application will have beneficial effects as much as it had to the media industry.
  7. Other Data Compression is a vast field that includes all cases where data, possibly already in digital form, are currently handled in an inefficient way. Data compression is not important only because it reduces storage and transmission time/bandwidth requirements, but because it provides data in a structured form that is suitable for further processing. Exploring and handking these opportunities is a long-term effort and will certainly provide rewarding opportunities.
  8. Finally, we should realise that, although MPEG holds the best compression and transport experts from the top academic and economic enterprises, we do not know the needs of all economic players. We should be constantly on alert, ready to detect the weak signal of today that will become mainstream tomorrow.

For as many years to come as it is possible to forecast today, industry and consumers will need MPEG standards.

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