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Interview With BBC Dirac Developer Thomas Davis 170

Posted by timothy
from the making-pictures-move dept.
arclightfire writes "The subject of the BBC video codec Dirac has been here before, but we've managed to get an interview with Thomas Davies, Senior R&D Engineer at the BBC who devised the Dirac algorithm. Interesting to note that the codec should be with Mplayer soon; "As far as players go, we'll be submitting a patch to Mplayer to allow it to play Dirac pretty soon." And info about the tech developments in Dirac; "I used tried and techniques, like wavelets, which weren't in standards at the time, and tried to develop them. And that's what we'll continue to do as the algorithm develops. So we've tried to build on some pretty well-understood technology, and also tried to do some new things with it. We're patenting the new stuff, quite a bit of which hasn't got into the software yet. The license means that these patents are licensed for free within the Dirac software.""
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Interview With BBC Dirac Developer Thomas Davis

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  • Now... (Score:1, Funny)

    by Pig Hogger (10379)
    How long before he'll be offered a juicy job at Microsoft or Apple???
  • Will we have the same fiasco with no legal decryption for Linux, then prosecution for not buying a registered decryptor as we did with DVD? Or will we need another 6 lines of Perl?
  • by YetAnotherName (168064) on Monday September 20, 2004 @09:45PM (#10304286) Homepage
    Especially from a British developer ... I mean, he could've gone with something like "The Cybermen Codec" or "The Sontaran Codec" or at least "The Dalek Codec" ...
  • by Frac (27516) on Monday September 20, 2004 @09:50PM (#10304314)
    h.264 (now formally known as AVC, the video-equivalent of AAC) is maturing. Well, at least Ahead's Nero Digital [nerodigital.com] implementation of h.264 is maturing. The marketing spin has it called Nero Digital, but it's fully h.264 compliant. And the results are impressive [doom9.org] - beta testing shows comparable quality of XviD at half the bitrate.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Indeed, realtime compression using H.264 at HD resolutions was demostrated at IBC recently, it's a mofo in terms of hardware but I can rememeber when MPEG2 encoders needed to be chilled, "you can comprese a 270Mbps raw stream down to just 8-9Mbps" they cried in amazement, lol, 8Mbps, if only.
  • Why bother? (Score:5, Informative)

    by JPyObjC Dude (772176) on Monday September 20, 2004 @09:51PM (#10304320)

    H.264/AVC is open and extremely powerful. Why bother with another protocol?

    From Apple Tiger h.264 page [apple.com]:
    Not only is H.264/AVC very efficient, providing extremely high quality in smaller files, but H.264/AVC is also scalable, producing video for everything from 3G for mobile phones to High Definition (HD). H.264/AVC can create great-looking 3G mobile content at 50-160 Kbps, excellent Standard Definition (SD) video at 800-1500 Kbps, beautiful HD video (1280x720, 24p) at 5-7 Mbps and full HD video (1920x1080, 24p) at 7-9 Mbps. So at today's SD DVD data rates, H.264/AVC can deliver full HD. In fact, H.264/AVC was ratified by the DVD Forum for inclusion in the next-generation HD DVD format.

    • Re:Why bother? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by damiam (409504) on Monday September 20, 2004 @09:56PM (#10304358)
      Open? So, can you use it commercially without a license fee?
    • Re:Why bother? (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Well, lets wait and see which is better, shall we?

      p.s. If I were you I'd have left off that last sentance...
      "H.264/AVC was ratified by the DVD Forum for inclusion in the next-generation HD DVD format"

      Because we all know how great MPEG2 is. And how much cheaper our HD-DVDs and players will be with mandatory WMV support. Those guys are clueless.
    • by riversky (732353) on Monday September 20, 2004 @10:06PM (#10304435)
      The license costs on H.264 are the most expensive on the planet (MPEG LA controls it with a hell of a lot of patented stuff from various companies). This is why it isn't being adopted rapidly. Even MS undercut it with cheaper licensing on Windows Media. This will kill it, a very nice technology. I am all for open source codecs. Perhaps BBC is on to something.
  • Is it in M*ENCODER* (Score:5, Interesting)

    by strredwolf (532) on Monday September 20, 2004 @09:59PM (#10304380) Homepage Journal
    Having decode support in Mplayer is good. but it's not going to fly well if there's no support for encoding! How are you going to use it to it's full potential in Unix if you can't back up your DVD's with it?

    It goes double for the Ogg Theora format.
    • no. Here's why. (Score:3, Informative)

      by don.g (6394)
      mencoder at present (AFAIK) only outputs AVI, a format which doesn't cope well with VBR.

      Until it supports the ogg bitstream format, you're not likely to see Vorbis audio support, let alone Theora.
    • And whilst a new codec with Unix support is nice, and encoding is nice, how may average listeners are going to download mplayer?

      Unless they produce a DirectShow filter for Windows (like ffdshow [sourceforge.net] does for DivX), they're excluding that rather large desktop market of listeners. Their research page says they have volunteers to code the filter, but until that arrives the codec is playing to a very small audidence. (A bit like the BBC digital channels <g>)

    • by diracvideo (776759) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @08:30AM (#10307100) Homepage
      Both a C interface to our encoder and direct show filters are on our road map. Monitor our site or check freshmeat to find out as soon as they arrive. Please bear in mind we are only in alpha.
  • ...because it rhymes with Chirac.
  • by solidhen (642119) on Monday September 20, 2004 @10:22PM (#10304525)
    From what I've read it looks like the goal with Dirac is to get a royalty free codec. If this is correct then why did you decide against using/contributing to the open source/open standard ogg theora codec?

    • If the quality of Dirac is higher it should of course be preferred. That said, I have not seen any video encoded with either, except for that Java Theora implementation last week (?), so I don't know which one is better.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Theora isn't as good as XviD, which is MPEG4. This aims to beat both.
    • For god's sake, this is answered on the FAQ page of the BBC Dirac site. Do some research before asking questions, or moderating them up...
    • What about Ogg Theora?

      We're glad that it looks like Theora will reach beta soon. We think you can't have too many free codecs, but that the Open Source community also needs to continue to develop codecs with increasingly better performance. We also think there could be a good deal in Theora that we could use in Dirac, and we'd like to work with developers who've been closely involved in Theora. We intend to pack the Dirac elementary stream into MXF, which has lots of useful features. That doesn't preclud

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Like Adam recently did with his latest incarnation of Adam's Platform....
    ... or so he told his board yesterday!

    MWC [asx.com.au]

    I think the Dirac project is fantastic and is a good example of public money being used for the public good.

    • MOD PARENT UP!

      I don't know if Adam's Platform has been discussed on Slashdot before, but it was one of those classic "we can compress video 100x tighter than MPEG and decompress it realtime on a 286!" type claims. Good to see them getting spanked, as described in that report to the Australian Stock Exchange [asx.com.au]..

      Juicy highlights:

      • after uninstalling the APT codec and rebooting, the APT video files mysteriously still played!
      • The team that evaluated the codec found that it had "what looked like the exact charac
      • by Anonymous Coward
        [Posting anonymously because I know some of the people involved]

        Thank you to parent and grandparent. I've been following the Adams Platform/MWC saga for some time, but hadn't seen the most recent ASX document...

        Adam Clark and his father are total fruit loops. Quite a few big names (who should have had better-tuned bullshit detectors given their positions) got suckered by them but the smarter ones got out earlier when Adam refused to let even his company's own board independently review the technology.

        Fra
        • I too have been following the Adam's Platform saga for ages now. Remember the outrage when some journo from The Australian was championing this guy's cause as an Aussie Battler trying to make it in the big time? Despite the journalist receiving mountains of letters from some very smart people proving that Adam's claims could not be true, he still stood by him.
  • Patents (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 20, 2004 @10:32PM (#10304579)
    Sounds like those patents are licensed for free within the context of this project, but not if you take the technology out of the codec. Fine, great, except that's the same license Microsoft offered on their SPF stuff, and they got drilled for it.
    • Re:Patents (Score:4, Informative)

      by diracvideo (776759) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @08:40AM (#10307178) Homepage
      Dirac is licensed under the MPL (Mozilla) triple license. This means it is primariliy licensed under the MPL but anyone is free to re-license under either the GPL or LGPL licenses. We used the Mozilla license becuase it is well known and deals with patent issues. It means that any patents the BBC can license relating to the software are implicitly and irrevocably licensed for the software. So there are no royalties to pay for developing or using this software (either encoder or decoder). We chose this license to try to ensure that the codec remains royalty free. We figured if it was good enought for the Mozilla project it would probably be OK for us too. On the other hand we are aware that the MPL, on its own, is incompatible with the GPL and LGPL. We didn't want this and so have allowed re-licensing under the GPL. This means GPL software can freely integrate and develop Dirac. This is the approach suggested on the Gnu license page. You can also license Dirac under the LGPL. This means that even proprietary software can use it if they dynamically link with the libraries. The reason we have done this is so that the widest range of users can use Dirac royalty free.
  • what? (Score:4, Funny)

    by squarefish (561836) * on Monday September 20, 2004 @10:32PM (#10304581)
    the BBC working with software?

    did they have anything to do with python?
  • Dang, now when they invent the FTL telephone they won't be able to call it the Dirac Communicator, 'cos everyone will think it's some kind of MP3 player!

    Another SF classic (Cities in Flight) shot down by careless scientist types. Goldarn it!
  • by Papineau (527159) on Monday September 20, 2004 @10:51PM (#10304671) Homepage

    Does that mean the license does not extend to other usages (besides in Dirac)?

    This could be problematic to include in Mplayer, as Mplayer is licensed under the GPL, and IIRC, there's a patent clause (clause #4?) in the GPL saying something along the lines of "if you license your patent for use in a GPL software, the license extends to all software derived from the first one, not only that first one".

    Is this a correct reading of the situation?


    • The fart that they intend to release it undor the GPL means that so long as you keep your derived code under the GPL youre fine.
    • I had the same worry. Field-of-use provisions are incompatible with the GPL. So this was rather unclear. However, in TFA, they say clearly that:

      PC:In your FAQ you say that the license that Dirac is released under is Mozilla triple license (MPL), but also that, "...allows for relicensing under the GPL or the LGPL." Could you clarify this - does it mean that Dirac will only be under the MPL, but that others developing using the source could release their work as GPL?

      TD:Yes, they could do that.

      Seems pr

    • Dirac is licensed under the MPL (Mozilla) triple license. This means it is primariliy licensed under the MPL but anyone is free to re-license under either the GPL or LGPL licenses. We used the Mozilla license becuase it is well known and deals with patent issues. It means that any patents the BBC can license relating to the software are implicitly and irrevocably licensed for the software. So there are no royalties to pay for developing or using this software (either encoder or decoder). We chose this licen
  • by alib001 (654044) on Monday September 20, 2004 @10:58PM (#10304721)
    TD: I think the BBC has always had a very strong commitment to Open Standards...

    Yeah... a Real [bbc.co.uk] strong commitment.

    There's a list of excuses for their audio streams here [bbc.co.uk]. (No, you may not: cue / rewind / download the stuff the license [bbc.co.uk] payers paid to produce.)

    Hopefully they'll sort out their copyright / rights management issues and delivery by the time dirac comes out. Frankly, it couldn't make things worse.

  • Who cares about mplayer support?

    It's bloated. On both linux and MacOS X, it consumes considerable CPU resources- and that's with the fancy interpolation it supposedly does turned off. My Powerbook G4, for example- mplayer consumes about 60% CPU, enough to bake my lap and turn on the fan after a while. VLC, on the other hand- needs about 20%, keeping my lap happy.

    I had a similar experience with Xine- it would take up only a few percent of my athlon's CPU time, but mplayer would practically throttle th

    • I dont use Mac hardware, but Ive had about the exact opposite experince.

      Some CPU intensive stuff I have been unable to play in anything but mplayer. (xin e and others couldnt keep up)

      futhermore, its the only thing ive been able to play matroska files in, so its the only choice really. if not for those things i would prefers xine's ui.
    • The times I've used VLC (on windows anyway, never used it on linux), the A/V resync caused a noticable change in audio pitch. I've never noticed such a pitch change in mplayer (though it does take a while to resync)
    • mplayer has as part of it's arechetectural design to squeeze every frame it can out of the hardware. That's one of the reasons it's build process has historically been so complex, and the reason it has a strictly single threaded design (or at least did last I checked).

      mplayer plays just about everything, and is pretty ubiquitous. Xine has been in RC status forever now, and pulls in plenty of its codec work from mplayer anyway.

      mplayer is the bottom line for video playback on alternative OS's. Get it into m
    • by 0x0d0a (568518) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @02:12AM (#10305696) Journal
      Who cares about mplayer support?

      Those of us who prefer our keyboard to our mouse. And other folks.

      It's bloated. On both linux and MacOS X, it consumes considerable CPU resources- and that's with the fancy interpolation it supposedly does turned off. My Powerbook G4, for example- mplayer consumes about 60% CPU, enough to bake my lap and turn on the fan after a while. VLC, on the other hand- needs about 20%, keeping my lap happy.

      You misconfigured it. This is, admittedly, not hard to do, but mplayer is the fastest of movie players if used correctly.

      Try using the following command: mplayer -vo xv -fs=yes moviename.

      Hmm, upon checking the manual, perhaps if Mac OS X lacks support for xv you should be using -vo quartz.

      Mplayer has been under "development" for several years. It hasn't seen any major or even minor feature additions. /me boggles.

      You've got to be joking. What about the latest ChangeLog [mplayerhq.hu]?

      The user interface sucks, especially on OS X.

      Actually, mplayer has some kind of bitmapped interface, which I always compile out. I hate all of those damned bitmapped interfaces, the pseudo-VCR things. It has a CLI interface which is exactly the same on OS X as on the other platforms.

  • What happened to BitTorrent plan for delivery of all the BBC archives? Wasn't it in August 2003 of last year that the BBC said it was going to deliver all of it's audio and video archive via Bit Torrent? I want all my BBC content online for download. When's it gonna happen or is this just more BBC pie in the sky R&D fluff.
  • but when.. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Turn-X Alphonse (789240) on Monday September 20, 2004 @11:11PM (#10304799) Journal
    Do we get a government based report looking into it and decicing it's a waste of the licence fee money then kill it?

    The BBC is funded by people paying a licence to watch TV in the UK (it is illegal not to have one and watch TV in your place of residences). Now 99% of these people arn't geeks and won't use a codec, why are they paying for it?
    • Re:but when.. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by trewornan (608722) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @12:52AM (#10305369)
      Now 99% of these people arn't geeks and won't use a codec, why are they paying for it?

      Because in the future they will be using it (or something like it) and if the BBC don't sort something out right now - in ten years time we'll all be needing Microsoft's permission to view what their PR department doesn't object to.

    • The BBC is funded by people paying a licence to watch TV in the UK (it is illegal not to have one and watch TV in your place of residences).

      Just wanted to point out the parent is being a little misleading here (unintentionally, I think) - from that it sounds like it's illegal NOT to watch TV in the UK.. rather a chilling 1984-esque concept.. families gathered round the TV set, guns to their heads, beads of sweat forming on their brows as they concentrate intently on soap operas and gameshows, not daring
      • Actually - the license is for the reception of TV signals. So PC TV-tuner cards and such are also required to have a license even if you don't have a TV.

        You can own a TV and not pay the license fee - if you can clearly show that the TV receiver is not used. (eg - detuned with no plug and ariel attached and its in a the bottom of a locked filing cabinet in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying "Beware of the Leopard")

        When I stopped watching TV - I gave the TV away to a friend and put the video
    • Re:but when.. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Bertie (87778) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @06:25AM (#10306509)
      It's all part of the BBC's remit. It was the BBC that developed NICAM [wikipedia.org], for instance. The BBC took it upon themselves to encourage the takeup of home computing by coming up with the spec for their own machine and recruiting Acorn to make it. Their Internet presence has been a major factor in getting the British population online - the BBC's websites are now among the most popular in the world. And they're currently at the forefront of the push to get digital TV into every home in the country through their Freeview set-top boxes.

    • The BBC is funded by people paying a licence to watch TV in the UK (it is illegal not to have one and watch TV in your place of residences)

      Oh Boy! You mean it's illegal to watch TV and not have one!
  • by Doc Ruby (173196) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @12:07AM (#10305154) Homepage Journal
    The BBC has an R&D department that builds video codecs. In the states, we've got PBS which makes a new muppet every 10 years, and ABCNNBCBS, which came up with projecting a yellow bar across the football scrimmage line in the 40 years since introducing color TV. That's why America is leading the media revolution!
    • That R&D department (a black box which you pour money in and get cool toys out) is possible because of the £120 a year fee every household in the UK has to pay.
      • That R&D department (a black box which you pour money in and get cool toys out) is possible because of the £120 a year fee every household in the UK has to pay.

        Which is a good thing, let's be clear.

        The value for money we get is good, but is secondary to the fact that it means we can get intelligent and impartial television and radio. Our friends in the US have nothing remotely like Radio 3 or 4. (High-brow classical music and jazz played in full, not just the famous bits, and high-brow, impar

        • Indeed. As long as we have a BBC, we'll never have a Fox News (leaving aside the fact that Fox News is available on satellite - what I mean is there'll never be a local version). They'd never get away with it. It'd just look ridiculous.
        • Worth every penny if you ask me, and I don't even watch TV.

          You dont watch TV, but you have a TV license?
    • Erm.... the BBC brought us Mr Blobby, which is itself enough to shoot it!!!!

      Wonder how much R&D that took!!!

      PS. I love the BBC, the above is a JOKE
  • Usable? (Score:1, Offtopic)

    by Lord_Dweomer (648696)
    I'm doing my senior project now in college and it deals with video and online distribution. I'm going to be studying distribution via P2P and Bittorrent and such, but I was wondering if this codec was even close to usable yet, and what would I have to do to implement it.

    Otherwise, I'm interested in a cheap (read: free) video streaming solution that would allow people to distribute the load ala streamcast or something, because I can't afford the bandwidth bill.

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