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Media Technology

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

    by damiam (409504) on Monday September 20, 2004 @08:56PM (#10304358)
    Open? So, can you use it commercially without a license fee?
  • Re:Now... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Kumkwat (312490) on Monday September 20, 2004 @09:35PM (#10304596) Journal


    Microsoft Research lives at Cambridge. They would be very interested in innovative compression techinques.
  • by SuperBanana (662181) on Monday September 20, 2004 @09:45PM (#10304639)
    Dirac is free, H.264 is not

    Bullshit. Every MPEG standard implementor is -supposed- to pay royalties. But I don't see any projects which support mpeg video and audio- doing so. I also don't see anyone chasing them down for the royalties. The general consensus is that if you don't make money off it, nobody will chase you down for the royalties; they're happy with the revenue stream from commercial software.

    Further, if you bothered to read up [wikipedia.org], you'd note that there's a reference implementation with downloadable source code, and documents on the (ahem) ISO standard.

    Also, listening to someone complain about proprietary technology and "openness" being a hinderance is pretty funny in the context of Mplayer [debian.org], considering that the developers distribute codec packs consisting of commercial software (specifically DLL files) they're -not allowed to distribute- from Microsoft, Real, Apple, Intel, and many others. Dozens of proprietary video and audio formats are included.

  • by RiffRafff (234408) on Monday September 20, 2004 @09:56PM (#10304706) Homepage
    Also, listening to someone complain about proprietary technology and "openness" being a hinderance is pretty funny in the context of Mplayer, considering that the developers distribute codec packs consisting of commercial software...

    Which is legal in Hungary. Welcome to the internet, son.

    I can't help but wonder just how YOU came to know about them, you being such an upstanding citizen and all. Hmmm?
  • by alib001 (654044) on Monday September 20, 2004 @09:58PM (#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.

  • by Spy Hunter (317220) on Monday September 20, 2004 @10:07PM (#10304773) Journal
    Yeah, it's all fine for now. But building free software on a proprietary base will bite you in the ass in the long run (which is why we have the Debian project, but that's a topic for another time). Eventually someone will make a program that the MPEG people don't like (such as an easy converter to Dirac), and they will get sued into next week. Or, if the open-source codecs are sucessful and become the de-facto standard for multimedia, THEN they'll start being pricks about the royalties. The MPEG consortium can come in at any time they like and destroy any open-source project using their standards, or leech off their hard work by charging everybody royalties. I wouldn't work on a project that had that hanging over its head, even if the MPEG people have been okay so far.
  • by Srin Tuar (147269) <zeroday26@yahoo.com> on Monday September 20, 2004 @10:11PM (#10304796)
    This is a very big problem: major distros cannot include mplayer because of potential patent suits.

    Just because noone has filed suit yet means nothing.

    If you want desktop linux to have a chance there have to be popular patent-free multimedia formats that it can use.

    There really is no point in promulgating any more mental-prison ware than strictly necessary. When new codecs are being developed, it only makes sense to throw your support behind the free ones when you have a choice.

    (iow, Dirac + ogg in an mkv container could save your soul ;P )

  • but when.. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Turn-X Alphonse (789240) on Monday September 20, 2004 @10:11PM (#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?
  • by 42forty-two42 (532340) <bdonlan@gmail . c om> on Monday September 20, 2004 @10:26PM (#10304915) Homepage Journal
    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 Wesley Felter (138342) <wesley@felter.org> on Monday September 20, 2004 @10:57PM (#10305097) Homepage
    You're completely right; such a lax attitude towards copyrights is a big barrier to the adoption of free (as in legally free) multimedia formats and software. Free software developers who don't respect Microsoft, Real, Apple, and Intel's copyrights shouldn't expect much in return [google.com].

    Given the Dirac developers' attitudes, I would expect them to be more likely to contribute to legal multimedia frameworks like GStreamer or Helix. Maybe the point of Dirac/Mplayer integration is popularity at any cost, in which case the cost will be a semi-underground existence.

    A reference implementation and ISO standard doesn't do me (or Fedora or Ubuntu etc.) much good; it's still patent-encumbered and thus not free.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 20, 2004 @11:36PM (#10305297)
    Theora isn't as good as XviD, which is MPEG4. This aims to beat both.
  • by Spoing (152917) on Monday September 20, 2004 @11:44PM (#10305336) Homepage
    1. Bullshit. Every MPEG standard implementor is -supposed- to pay royalties. But I don't see any projects which support mpeg video and audio- doing so. I also don't see anyone chasing them down for the royalties. The general consensus is that if you don't make money off it, nobody will chase you down for the royalties; they're happy with the revenue stream from commercial software.

    Good point. One for you: Do you think the BBC will have to pay royalties if they use H.264?

  • Re:but when.. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by trewornan (608722) on Monday September 20, 2004 @11:52PM (#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.

  • by Singletoned (619322) <singletoned@gmail.com> on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @04:13AM (#10306290) Homepage
    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, impartial current affairs, drama and comedy). They don't even have any politically impartial major broadcasters.

    In America most major stations are heavily right-wing because they are all owned by rich people who, unsurprisingly, support the Republicans. We get at least half a chance of hearing things from a reasonably independent, though critical, source.

    Worth every penny if you ask me, and I don't even watch TV.

  • Re:but when.. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Bertie (87778) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @05:25AM (#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.
  • by DrSkwid (118965) on Tuesday September 21, 2004 @05:53AM (#10306596) Homepage Journal
    mencoder [mplayerhq.hu] is a simple movie encoder, designed to encode MPlayer-playable movies to other MPlayer-playable formats. It encodes to DivX4, XviD, one of the libavcodec codecs and PCM/MP3/VBRMP3 audio in 1, 2 or 3 passes. Furthermore it has stream copying abilities, a powerful plugin system (crop, expand, flip, postprocess, rotate, scale, noise, rgb/yuv conversion) and more.

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