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BBC Begins Open-Source Streaming Challenge 373

Posted by michael
from the fear-factor dept.
bus_stopper copies and pastes: "The BBC is quietly preparing a challenge to Microsoft and other companies jostling to reap revenues from video streams. It is developing code-decode (codec) software called Dirac in an open-source project aimed at providing a royalty-free way to distribute video. The sums at stake are potentially huge because the software industry insists on payment per viewer, per hour of encoded content. This contrasts with TV technology, for which viewers and broadcasters alike make a one-off royalties payment when they buy their equipment." We've mentioned this project before but this story goes into a bit more depth about the goals and motivations of the developers.
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BBC Begins Open-Source Streaming Challenge

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  • Good old Auntie! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jdtanner (741053) on Friday August 13, 2004 @08:53AM (#9957561) Homepage
    It just proves that you get a hell of a lot for your 125 GBP license fee!

    John
    • by Shisha (145964) on Friday August 13, 2004 @09:17AM (#9957731) Homepage
      On the other hand, it could be argued, that many people benefit enormously from the BBC, despite not paying the TV license. Me, for one, I don't have a telly and so I don't pay, despite listening to BBC radio, reading the website etc.

      My point is that by developing this code, _eventually_ and _slowly_ less and less people are going to have a television in the house and hence less and less people will pay the license.

      Which means that the UK government will have to figure out how to finance the BBC. I would hate to see them deciding to sell it. It would be really unfortunate if this project marked the beginning of the end of BBC as we know it.
      • This is an old hobby horse of mine. I'm not a big fan of mandatary licensing fees, and the point made by parent (among others) is a good illustration of why.

        I think the future of TV will involve less and less advertising and licensing fees. Instead, big content producers like the BBC will sell their archives on a pay-per-view basis. Yes, I know they are planning to offer them for free, but if they have any sense they'll bag the license fees and attach a small, reasonable price to each download.

        Everyone

        • I don't object to an anuual fee, just that it goes to everybody i watch, ie, like Sky, I pay for a package, i get that package. It annoys me that I have to pay even if i own a set, regardless of what i watch, even if I only use if to play my XBox.
          • IIRC if you have a TV that is incapable of receiveing TV signals you don't have to pay anything. If anyone makes such a TV is another question.

            • by vrai (521708)
              Lots of companies make such devices - they're monitors with SVHS/composite inputs. Perfectly capable of displaying the output of DVDs and consoles, but devoid of the tax incurring UHF receiver. Most mid to high-end LCD monitors have at least a composite input. Failing that you can buy VGA output boxes for all the major consoles at Lik Sang.
          • by MikeDX (560598) on Friday August 13, 2004 @10:13AM (#9958306) Journal
            It annoys me that I have to pay even if i own a set, regardless of what i watch, even if I only use if to play my XBox.

            If you do indeed only use your TV in the UK to play DVDS or consoles, you can apply to be EXEMPT from a TV license as I did for 3 years. When you get the letter advising you have not got an up to date Television license, simply call the number on the bottom of the form, and advise them that you use your TV for console and DVD use and they will add you to the exemption list.

            Of course when they show up at your door or sit outside and see if your TV tuner is actively tuned to broadcasted television channels instead of playing the XBOX or watching DVDs then you can expect to get heavily fined and rightfully so.

            So if it bothers you that much about paying £125 for quite easily the best broadcaster in the world, I'm sure you will find my advice useful.
  • Ogg Theora (Score:5, Interesting)

    by SWroclawski (95770) <{gro.ikswalcorw} {ta} {egres}> on Friday August 13, 2004 @08:53AM (#9957563) Homepage
    It seems to me that the best way to support Free codecs would be to throw support at an existing project such as Ogg Theora [theora.org]. Does anyone know why they're not throwing support behind it?
    • Re:Ogg Theora (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Gilesx (525831) * <(gil) (at) (foresightlinux.com)> on Friday August 13, 2004 @08:58AM (#9957595) Homepage
      Perhaps because they are attempting to develop a broadcast standard codec from the ground up, which I would speculate would require different goals and optimisations to the Ogg Theora project.
      • Re:Ogg Theora (Score:2, Interesting)

        by langarto (718855)
        Actually both projects seem to be using similar techniques (besed on the wavelet transform). But Theora didn't get very far and the project seems stalled long ago.
        • Ogg Theora is alive (Score:5, Informative)

          by tialaramex (61643) on Friday August 13, 2004 @09:36AM (#9957906) Homepage
          Theora is a conventional (block, motion, color transform, throw away bits, then ordinary compression) 2nd generation video codec, it is alive and well, and it reached bitstream freeze just a couple of months ago. Presumably beta and then final releases of the software & associated documentation will follow in good time.

          Tarkin is the Ogg wavelet codec. You're correct that work on Tarkin has more or less stalled, but wavelet codecs are a legal quagmire today, in part because so many people have conflicting patents in this area and are just waiting for the chance to litigate. Are any of the images on your website JPEG2000 instead of regular JFIF? Thought not.
        • You mean Ogg Tarkin (Score:3, Informative)

          by benwaggoner (513209)
          The wavelet codec was Ogg Tarkin. Ogg Theora is a more traditional codec, based on On2's open sourced VP3 codec from a few years back.

          Ogg Theora is lurching towards an actual release, and is supported in a few tools like VLC, while Ogg Tarkin never really got very far along in implementation. Theora was meant to be the quick interim release while Tarkin was developed, although the schedule has slipped quite a bit since.
      • Open standard (Score:3, Insightful)

        by mm0mm (687212)
        This is a great news as we really need open standard codec for broadcast streaming. BBC is already influential in the broadcast business. Once their new codec is acknowledged by SMPTE [smpte.org], it's matter of time that the new codec will be used widely by media conglomerates in the US. It may take some time to catch up, and/or there may be attacks by proprietary codec providers, but open standards will eventually prevail (...hopefully).

        As a non-Windows OS user, compatibility is extremely important for me. I'm si

        • Well, even if this was released, it's a real stretch saying that it's "only a matter of time" before it'll be widely used by US media companies. A codec is really only a small part of a digital media architecture. Some of the competitive factors that go into these choices include:

          Compression efficiency
          Cost of implementing decode in consumer electronics (read, what's the cheapest chip that can decode it)
          Support for existing transport mechanisms (like MPEG-2 transport streams)
          Existence of industrial grade en
    • Re:Ogg Theora (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Maybe because the trouble of making certain that no patented technology found its way into an existing project could easily become greater than the value of using that existing project.

      The started with a clean slate with much attention paid to keeping the IP clean. I think this was necessary, any excuse for MS or Real or whoever to shut down or slow down the project should be avoided.

      • Re:Ogg Theora (Score:2, Informative)

        by deimtee (762122)
        Keeping the IP clean only works to guard against copyright infringement. You don't have to know about a patent to infringe, you just have to use the technology described in the patent. It doesn't matter if it was independently developed, you are still infringing.
        This is one of the main reasons companies try to get software patents, as well as copyrights.
        • Re:Ogg Theora (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Daniel (1678)
          Well, they said that Dirac is sticking to techniques published at least 20 years ago, so patents shouldn't be much of an issue.

          Daniel
    • Re:Ogg Theora (Score:5, Interesting)

      by meringuoid (568297) on Friday August 13, 2004 @09:04AM (#9957639)
      From what I read last time this was covered... Dirac kicks Theora's arse, and xvid too.

      IIRC, it takes forever-squared to encode, but once done it beats just about anything in terms of file size and picture quality. Since the BBC's model is going to be encode once, then let the public download at will, this is fine by them.

      • Re:Ogg Theora (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward
        That's great, but do the BBC want to maintain the infrastructure around an open-source project or simply develop the codec?

        There's more to running an open-source project than giving away your code. You have to maintain it, patch bugs, run a mailing list to inform people of the bugs, and so on.

        Wouldn't it be better if they collaborated with the Ogg project so that, even though they are developing a new codec, the codec would be an Ogg codec, with the surrounding infrastructure maintained by the Ogg projec
      • Since the BBC's model is going to be encode once, then let the public download at will, this is fine by them.

        Personally I would think that this should be a goal for a lot of codecs. People want to fit movies onto a single CD with the best picture quality. Most people are interested in moving this video from a remote source (ahem BT) and put it on permanent storage for multiple views.
      • Re:Ogg Theora (Score:3, Interesting)

        by smallfries (601545)
        Looking at their info [bbc.co.uk] I'm wondering about Our algorithm seems to give a two-fold reduction in bit rate over MPEG-2 for high definition video (e.g. 1920x1080 pixels), its original target application. Now assuming that MPEG-2 is DVD quality then the bitrates tend to be quite high, around 8000kbps. Divx gives reasonable quality at only around 1500kbps. If their quote is true then I'd expect Dirac to use about 4000kbps on broadcast video - so how does it compete with current codecs at all?
        • Re:Ogg Theora (Score:3, Insightful)

          by gbjbaanb (229885)
          Divx gives reasonable quality at only around 1500kbps. If their quote is true then I'd expect Dirac to use about 4000kbps on broadcast video - so how does it compete with current codecs at all?

          reasonable quality != broadcast quality.

          If Dirac had a 'reasonable quality' mode, then you'd likely see it at 2000kbps which is getting close. They say they are still optimising it, so perhaps they can come to within a gnat's whisker of Divx compression.
    • Re:Ogg Theora (Score:5, Interesting)

      by akb (39826) on Friday August 13, 2004 @09:50AM (#9958090)
      Theora (vp3) competes with current generation codecs, Dirac is a next gen technology. Dirac is also just a codec, so one should be able to use the Ogg container format or any other one for that matter. Since the BBC's stated goal is a royalty free system and they seem to be FOSS friendly I would assume they would be considering Ogg strongly.

      By the way, I haven't seen a link to it so far, here [bbc.co.uk] is a link the a BBC info page on Dirac and here [sourceforge.net] is the Source Forge page for those wanting the code.
    • My guess is not. I have a hard time seeing any organization, even one as presumably benevolent as the BBC, giving money to an OSS project without expecting a certain set of deliverables.

      This implies that the OT developers would be "taking orders" from the BBC, and I'd guess that wouldn't work out well (cf "herding cats"), either from an accountability perspective or from a poltical perspective. I'm assuming (perhaps incorrectly) that involvement in Ogg projects is at least partially motivated by all the
  • From the article (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Megaweapon (25185) on Friday August 13, 2004 @08:55AM (#9957573) Homepage

    It can be used for passing video round home networks, rights-managed peer-to-peer file sharing, or playing media in handheld devices, as well as for web streaming.

    And this is why it will be fought against on the political front. How much you want to bet that the feds will want to require some sort of keying/user tracing mechanism in order for this "free" technology to be made publically available? Big media will argue that in order for the government to protect copyright, they shouldn't allow technology that can subert other's copyrights.

    • by jimicus (737525) on Friday August 13, 2004 @09:00AM (#9957609)
      I would imagine that the British Broadcasting Corporation doesn't much care about the feds.
    • In the BBC's case, since they are non-profit, they don't have the same motives as for-profit "big media" companies do. And the potential for controversy is delayed, since the Beeb is shooting for streaming of standard definition quality video first. When BBC programming comes to the USA, it always seems to go to PBS anyhow, not a commercial network. It will be interesting to see what happens with Dirac, and as it says at the end of the article, there are commercial companies that have an interest in this
    • Re:From the article (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Bill_Mische (253534) on Friday August 13, 2004 @09:08AM (#9957666)
      The BBC is the biggest media organisation in Britain and goes regularly goes one on one with governments including our own.

      If the "feds" were to ask the BBC not to release it we'd end up seeing one of your politicians getting an unexpected kicking in his next interview. A few years ago a BBC interviewer asked the Home Secretary (in charge of the police, prisons, immigration, "Homeland Security" etc.) the same question *14* times, when he wouldn't answer the question.
    • And this is why it will be fought against on the political front. How much you want to bet that the feds will want to require some sort of keying/user tracing mechanism in order for this "free" technology to be made publically available?

      Let the feds scream like stuck pigs.

      Now that the Bush administration has completely gutted our diplomatic clout to such a degree we can't even rally people against emerging nuclear threats (remember the boy who cried wolf?), no one but no one is willing to blindly go alon
  • Go BBC! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tdvaughan (582870) on Friday August 13, 2004 @08:55AM (#9957576) Homepage
    Another reason why I'm glad to be a UK citizen - every time I start to wonder if it's really worth having a 'public service' broadcaster the BBC goes and does something like this. I'm hoping they'll be able to make a stand when someone tries HDTV regulations over here.
  • Only in the US (Score:5, Informative)

    by Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) on Friday August 13, 2004 @08:57AM (#9957589)
    This contrasts with TV technology, for which viewers and broadcasters alike make a one-off royalties payment when they buy their equipment.

    Again, there are other [tvlicensing.co.uk] countries [zdnet.fr] in the world where things don't happen that way. In most of the EC in fact...

    For your information Michael, the Beeb is in the UK where your statement doesn't apply.
    • Re:Only in the US (Score:5, Informative)

      by JaredOfEuropa (526365) on Friday August 13, 2004 @09:07AM (#9957656) Journal
      Again, there are other [tvlicensing.co.uk] countries [zdnet.fr] in the world where things don't happen that way.
      A TV license is a payment against royalties on content, not royalties on TV technology. In contrast to existing TV technology, users of commercial streaming video applications pay a per-viewer/per-hour fee for the technology. That is what the BBC wants to avoid by developing their own streaming solution.
      • A TV license is a payment against royalties on content, not royalties on TV technology.

        This may be true now; but during the 1980s it certainly wasn't. I needed a TV License to use a portable TV with no tuner, that I used solely used for my "micro-computer"[1]. No tuner in the house, still needed a TV License. The reason given was that the license was a license "to use the technology" - what use I put the technology to was my business.

        20 years ago, etc, YMMV.

        [1] A ZX-81, a Spectrum and (finally!) a

  • The BBC (Score:5, Interesting)

    by payndz (589033) on Friday August 13, 2004 @08:59AM (#9957603)
    Another good reason (among many) why the BBC should remain a non-commercial operation. Yes, paying the licence fee is an annoyance, but everyone gets a lot out of the Beeb, not just TV (BBC Online has all but replaced daily newspapers for me, and after having grown up with BBC radio, I find commercial radio unlistenable). And they're even bringing back Doctor Who!

    Sure, it has its problems, but I'd trust the BBC over any politician, especially ones who make threatening noises about its charter every time it does its job by being independent and embarrassing the government of the day...

    • Yes, paying the licence fee is an annoyance, but everyone gets a lot out of the Beeb

      Can I claim some of my license money back then [bbc.co.uk]?
    • Re:The BBC (Score:4, Informative)

      by CarrionBird (589738) on Friday August 13, 2004 @10:34AM (#9958540) Journal
      All in all it's probably a better deal than we get here (US). We have "free" TV, but it is Ad laden and restricted by what the ratings will support.

      Our public TV has some good stuff (and some HD too), but it gets minimal federal funding and has to beg for donations all the time. (AFAIK, the congress mandated push to HD is reaming their budgets too, they won't survive this decade)

      The pay options are ok, but still ad driven and you can end up with a $100+ a month TV bill if you get any "top tier" stuff.

      As for me, basic cable is bundled in my rent, so there's little choice in it.

  • by McCall (212035) on Friday August 13, 2004 @09:02AM (#9957623) Homepage
    I have paid for ten TV licenses in my life, and I have to admit that I am glad the the organisation that gets some of this money is developing something like this...

    ...although I have to admit, the BBC would have probably have been better off using my money to become the "offical" sponsors for an existing open source project such as Theora [theora.org], rather than starting from scratch.

    The link is the story is dead, I found the home page here [bbc.co.uk], and the SourceForge site here [sourceforge.net].

    Thanks,

    Andrew McCall
  • I'm in half of RTFA, and

    The figures assume a 3GHz processor but the focus is on gaining speed by code optimisation rather than hardware because the BBC wants Dirac to be usable on a broad range of devices.

    Who on the world has 3GHz processor in his desktop computer? Certainly not me, not my friends or relatives, nor even my boss, who has 2.4GHz.
    • by kzinti (9651)
      Who on the world has 3GHz processor in his desktop computer? Certainly not me, not my friends or relatives, nor even my boss, who has 2.4GHz.

      Perhaps they're looking down the road. When Dirac is deployed, a 3GHz processor might be the norm. (By then your boss will have a 4GHz processor.)
    • Well it aint being used yet is it, say it takes another 2 years to finish, then that will probably be about right. When id where making Doom3 no one was like "targetting 1.5Ghz, who has one of those". progress happens, if your making a product it makes sense to aim above the current standard speed cpu etc, as by the time your finished it may well be a very basic PC.
    • by Tet (2721) *
      Who on the world has 3GHz processor in his desktop computer?

      isengard:~% egrep '(processor|GHz)' /proc/cpuinfo
      processor : 0
      model name : Intel(R) Xeon(TM) CPU 2.80GHz
      processor : 1
      model name : Intel(R) Xeon(TM) CPU 2.80GHz
      processor : 2
      model name : Intel(R) Xeon(TM) CPU 2.80GHz
      processor : 3
      model name : Intel(R) Xeon(TM) CPU 2.80GHz

      That'd be me, then! Or at least very nearly, although I freely admit I'm not a typical user. But the point is, by the time this is ready for prime time, that leve

      • oh well :)

        absurd:~$ egrep '(processor|Hz)' /proc/cpuinfo
        processor : 0
        cpu MHz : 599.027
        processor : 1
        cpu MHz : 599.027

        see? I'm not that typical too, lest people around (including me) do lack some power. (and isengard is supposed to have more power than some absurd shadow)
        • Re:3GHz (Score:3, Funny)

          by $rtbl_this (584653)

          Could be worse. :)

          C:\>egrep '(processor|Hz)' /proc/cpuinfo
          The name specified is not recognized as an
          internal or external command, operable program or batch file.

  • It would be nice to know if the codec will run on one of these [nvg.org]? :-)
  • BBC (Score:2, Funny)

    by 5m477m4n (787430)
    Did anyone else think it was funny that the BBC wants to provide something royalty-free? Me thinks that's grounds for a hanging.
  • Ogg Vorbis & Theora (Score:2, Interesting)

    by fozzmeister (160968)
    What's wrong with those products BBC?
  • A bit of politics (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Maljin Jolt (746064) on Friday August 13, 2004 @09:23AM (#9957786) Journal
    "...a bit more depth about the goals and motivations of the developers."

    Freedom of information is not about paying or not paying for commercial content. Freedom of information is about politics, human rights, rulership and ideology manipulation. BBC is on the side of freedom for some time, and currently under heavy pressure from the conservatives.

    Letting free codec technology to public now may help in some near future, when independent journalists will be hunted to underground or illegality.
  • Videolan (Score:3, Informative)

    by Hi_2k (567317) on Friday August 13, 2004 @09:32AM (#9957868) Journal
    Why develop your own streaming software when VideoLan [videolan.org] is already out there and working great? I regularly use it for any media viewing, and I've had great sucess with the streaming features.
    • Re:Videolan (Score:3, Informative)

      by elandal (9242)
      VideoLan is not a codec but an application. Dirac is a codec. You could stream dirac-encoded video with VideoLan I presume.
  • Project homepage (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 13, 2004 @09:33AM (#9957874)
    no KW required

    BBC Dirac [bbc.co.uk]

    The Dirac Project

    Dirac is a general-purpose video codec aimed at resolutions from QCIF (180x144) to HDTV (1920x1080) progressive or interlaced. It uses wavelets, motion compensation and arithmetic coding and aims to be competitive with other state of the art codecs.
  • by NigelJohnstone (242811) on Friday August 13, 2004 @09:37AM (#9957924)
    There's a green paper due on the BBC later in the year. A pre-report has already been critical of the BBC's online activities, suggesting it does too much itself.

    From an investigation in August 2003:
    http://www.culture.gov.uk/global/publicatio ns/arch ive_2004/BBC_Online_Review.htm

    You can bet MS (or Microsoft lobbyists the BSA) will try damn hard to kill this project.

    I wish the BBC would stop dragging its feet and do it, start releasing the archive now with their codec, before the politicians kill.

  • Dirac homepage (Score:5, Informative)

    by flyhmstr (32953) on Friday August 13, 2004 @09:44AM (#9958011) Homepage
    Dirac homepage [bbc.co.uk] and the Sourceforge [sourceforge.net] pages
  • Dirac? (Score:3, Funny)

    by NiceGuyUK (801305) on Friday August 13, 2004 @09:58AM (#9958157)
    I think the BBC is using the name Dirac in the wrong document - shouldn't it be the name of a villain in their new series of Doctor Who?
  • The sums at stake are potentially huge because the software industry insists on payment per viewer, per hour of encoded content

    If It's only by the hour does this mean the guys who never learned control get free porn?
    COOL! finally someone who understands us!
  • by thrill12 (711899) * on Friday August 13, 2004 @10:21AM (#9958388) Journal
    This could be a perfect solution for conferences such as HAL 2001 [hal2001.org]. I remember there was a need for sponsorship by a professional television broadcaster to provide licenses for realtime streaming of conference speakers back then.
    A good alternative to Real and Media encoder that is free is definitely wanted in these areas.

    Offtopic: I wonder why the DV's of this conference are still not encoded...
  • "Dirac"? (Score:3, Funny)

    by mikeee (137160) on Friday August 13, 2004 @10:27AM (#9958461)
    Sure, the compression is really good, but the problem is that it makes everybody look like they have really bad hair...

    (Only physics geeks will get this. Why am I bothering?)
  • Ogg Vorbis streams (Score:3, Interesting)

    by rikkus-x (526844) <rik@rikkus.info> on Friday August 13, 2004 @11:20AM (#9959080) Homepage
    Right, so the BBC have the resources to _develop_ a whole new codec, but not to set up Ogg Vorbis streaming of their radio programming, alongside the existing RealAudio streams?

    The BBC, IMNSHO (as a licence payer), should be champions of open communications, and this extends to the openness of their distribution formats. I wish they'd stop wasting resources from crappy little mini-sites with gossip and games relating to soap operas.

    Rik
  • by awol (98751) on Friday August 13, 2004 @01:43PM (#9960760) Journal
    I wonder how this project is affected by the recently announced sale of "BBC Technology" the BBC technology arm to Siemens. It is projects like this that seem to me to make the sale an extraodinary decision. Unless they are completely unrelated? Any insiders want to AC?

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