Can MPEG overcome its Video “crisis”?

In an earlier post I described the “crisis” and how it was created, and hinted at possible ways to solve this crisis and avoid possible other future crises in other areas. As I remain skeptical that the crisis will be overcome, I want to remove any doubt about who should be blamed for the failure, certainly not MPEG.

About ISO (and IEC)

The International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO), is an international non-intergovernmental organisation, made up of members from the national standards bodies of 162 countries (as of today). This is a summary of the ISO organisational structure

  1. The General Assembly is the ultimate authority of ISO and meets once a year.
  2. The Council is the core ISO governance body made up of 20 member bodies and other officers. It reports to the General Assembly and meets three times a year.
  3. The Technical Management Board (TMB) manages the ISO technical work and is responsible for the Technical Committees (TC). The TMB reports to Council.
  4. Technical Committees are in charge of developing standards. Nominally there are 314 TCs, but some are inactive or disbanded. Of particular relevance is the Joint ISO/IEC Technical Committee 1 (JTC 1) on Information Technologies established in 1987 by combining relevant activities in ISO TC 97 Information processing systems and in the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). JTC 1 is the largest TC in ISO and by itself manages ~1/3 of all ISO standardisation activities. JTC 1 is organised in Subcommittees, the latest of which is SC 42 Artificial Intelligence. Some SCs have been disbanded.

The figure below graphically represents the structure

The size and importance of ISO require rules that are contained in the ISO/IEC Directives that all entities in ISO are bound to follow. These are periodically reviewed.

About MPEG

The Moving Picture Experts Group was created in 1988 as an Experts Group of Working Group 8 of JTC 1/SC 2 then called Character Sets and Information Coding. MPEG operatedin parallel to the Joint ISO/ITU-T Picture Experts Group (JPEG). In 1991 JTC 1/SC 29 Coding of audio, picture, multimedia and hypermedia information was created and MPEG became its WG 11 “Coding of Moving Pictures and Audio”.

MPEG develops highly sophisticated standards and the typical attendance at its quarterly meetings is 400-500 experts. Therefore MPEG is organised in Subgroups: Requirements (what MPEG standards should do), Systems (media system level standards), Video (video coding standards), JCT-VC (HEVC standard), JVET (future video coding standard), 3DG (3D graphics coding standards), Tests (testing the quality of MPEG standards) and Communication (promotion of MPEG standards). JCT-VC and JVET are joint with ITU-T SG 16 Q6.

This is a probably unique organisation in ISO, but it exists because standards for media systems require a strong interaction of its components. Because of this MPEG holds several joint meetings where relevant subgroups discuss and agree on matters of common interests. The ability to develop complex digital media standards is one of the reasons of the success of MPEG standards in the market. Breaking up MPEG would deal a fatal blow to the ability to create valid standards.

There is a fundamental operational difference between ISO Working Groups on one side, and Subcommittees and Technical Committees on the other. SC and TC decisions are based on national votes (where e.g. Luxembourg and United States have one vote each), WG technical decisions are made by consensus. Far from being a constraint, consensus-based working ensures that MPEG standards are technically sound.

About MPEG standards

As stated in my earlier post MPEG has been developing standards having the best performance as a goal, irrespective of the IPR involved. This approach has produced the best technical – and usable – video coding standards until AVC. No longer so with HEVC. It is not that there are many more patent holders in HEVC than in AVC, but the patent pool creation mechanism seems no longer able to deliver results.

In my earlier post I have provided some ideas on how the MPEG standard development process can be adapted to deliver standards in a form that facilitates the development of licences. None of these ideas can even remotely disadvantage proponents of good video coding technology. The point is that decisions in the MPEG working group are to be made by consensus. So it is entirely in the hands of MPEG members (and also ITU-T, in the case of joint video standards) to agree on an effective way of streamlining the MPEG video coding standard development process.

Unfortunately this is only the tip of the iceberg. The fact that almost the same companies have been unable to agree on an HEVC licence when 12 years before they had been able to agree on an AVC licence shows that the patent holder environment is changing. The result is that the nice “ISO consensus” practice may no longer ensure that Option 2 standards can be developed and the MPEG experience proves that Option 1 standards cannot be developed.

Of course the work of developing technical standards must be done using the “ISO consensus” practice, but MPEG must be able to access the high layers of the ISO hierarchy without shields. Even if there were no other good reasons, this should be achieved because MPEG is the largest working group in ISO, larger than most if not all JTC 1 Subcommittees and of most ISO Technical Committees, producing more standards than most ISO entities.


The reader should not think that I am rasing the “MPEG TC” issue because of an ill-conceived desire for “promotion”. Over the last 30 years I have been approached by several National Body representatives who asked me to raise the MPEG status in ISO. I always declined because at the time I thought that the “MPEG WG” status was just OK.

On a hindsight. not acting on those proposals was my mistake.

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