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Media Technology

Money For Nothing and the Codecs For Free 206

Posted by timothy
from the wrapper-inside-a-riddle-inside-a-framework-inside-an-enigma dept.
Davis Freeberg writes "In an in depth discussion on the codec industry, CoreCodec CEO and Matroska Foundation board member Dan Marlin shares his thoughts on the growing popularity of the MKV container, confusion in the marketplace between X.264/MKV and DivXHD and weighs in on a controversial decision by Microsoft to block third party filter support in future versions of Windows media player. His interview offers a behind the scenes look at an important piece of technology that is helping to power the P2P movement. It also raises the prickly question of whether or not Microsoft is abusing their OS monopoly, in order to rein in competition within the codec industry."
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Money For Nothing and the Codecs For Free

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  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <[moc.liamg] [ta] [nhojovadle]> on Wednesday June 03, 2009 @02:57PM (#28199357) Journal
    From their goals [wikipedia.org]:
    • creating a modern, flexible, extensible, cross-platform multimedia container format;
    • developing robust streaming support;
    • developing a menu system similar to that of DVDs based on EBML;
    • developing a set of tools for the creation and editing of Matroska files;
    • developing libraries that can be used to allow developers to add Matroska support to their applications;
    • working with hardware manufacturers to include Matroska support in embedded multimedia devices;
    • working to provide native Matroska support in various operating systems.

    I would have liked to hear more on how he plans to break into the streaming market when everyone is going proprietary on that for the sake of DRM. He mentions it briefly but does he have any definite plans?

    Davis Freeberg, if you're reading this could you introduce Marlin to the editors for a Slashdot Interview [slashdot.org]? I can think of a lot things to ask him as I'm sure other users could ...

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Good suggestion, It would be interesting to see what other people would be interested in. I'll ask if he has any interest and hopefully he'll be open to fielding some questions.
    • by BESTouff (531293) on Wednesday June 03, 2009 @03:19PM (#28199649)

      I would have liked to hear more on how he plans to break into the streaming market when everyone is going proprietary on that for the sake of DRM.

      Everyone ? Do you mean Dailymotion and Youtube going vorbis+theora for their streaming needs doesn't count ?

    • everyone is going proprietary

      It seems Youtube is going somewhat open [youtube.com].

      No, the more interesting problem to me is:

      developing a menu system similar to that of DVDs based on EBML;

      I still don't get why MKV bothers with EBML at all, instead of using compressed XML, or a better format like JSON. It seems to me that as soon as you go binary, you lose a major point for XML in the first place.

      I'd also be really curious to know what they plan for this. Seems to me an obvious choice might be to just do html. With video tags, canvas, and all that other good stuff, you have most of what you need -- just add an A

      • by ardor (673957)

        EBML can be read much faster than compressed XML or JSON, while being smaller at the same time. Both of these advantages are critical for video streams. In addition, compressed XML means that either the whole thing is compressed - which disallows streaming - or chunks are compressed, which is not a satisfying solution.

        EBML is a hierarchical semi-structured container for binary data. It does have its place.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Timmmm (636430)

        EBML is (almost) what XML always should have been.

        XML:
          Pros: Human readable
          Cons: Slow to parse, inconvenient to write parsers for, space-inefficient.

        Binary XML:
          Pros: Easy to write fast, simple parsers for, space efficient, allows easy random access into the file.
          Cons: Needs specialised editor (i.e. an 'XML editor' rather than any old text editor).

        I'd much much much rather have the latter.

  • Hack (Score:3, Insightful)

    by rodrigoandrade (713371) on Wednesday June 03, 2009 @02:58PM (#28199379)
    I'm sure devs will figure out a way to run 3rd party codecs on Win7 and future Windows.

    BTW, ts TFA just FUD or a guy promoting his own agenda??
    • I'm sure devs will figure out a way to run 3rd party codecs on Win7 and future Windows.

      There are already ways to do so.

      BTW, ts TFA just FUD or a guy promoting his own agenda??

      It's someone playing the "Micrsoft is persecuting me!!!" game to get sympathy from the "Micro$oft" crowd.

    • Yes, but if it's not on there by default or if a wizard doesn't pop up to guide them through in five clicks or less, preferably with happy images and music, the average user won't install it.
      • How is that any different than what happens now? Very few average users are buying and using any of CoreCodec's projects. This is just some small-time company that has a tiny customer base whining that Microsoft is ditching DirectShow and obsoleting his company.
      • Here is one place I can act like an average user cause I don't have some pony in the race. I don't care how my video is encoded, depending on how tired my eyes are I don't even care if the result even looks decent. Why should I have to install 20 different codex for seeing a video? I just want to see the moving pictures and hear the audio.
        • That's one advantage of this guy's product -- you buy one codec pack, install it, and never look back. Now any video player you use will just work.

          Of course, my approach is to just install VLC and make it the default, which has a similar effect.

          • That's one advantage of this guy's product -- you buy one codec pack, install it, and never look back. Now any video player you use will just work.

            I've heard this promise many times before, and each time it's turned into "of course you need to get the *latest* codec pack, which requires a new player, and new libraries, and since we only write the codecs and not the encoder or decoder itself you'll have to get product X too, and....

            In 25 years of IT I have used some truly awful systems of legend, but only vi

            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              This is why things like Flash video make me happy.

              Flash video makes me angry, because it works exactly where it works, as well as it wants to work -- still requiring an order of magnitude more CPU than the competition, on the exact same file.

              But...

              of course you need to get the *latest* codec pack, which requires a new player, and new libraries, and since we only write the codecs and not the encoder or decoder itself you'll have to get product X too,

              I really haven't seen that... and the codecs generally do just hook into most players.

              Yes, everything always needs the latest. The only difference is that Flash will silently update itself. There's another all-in-one solution, though: VLC.

    • by mzs (595629)

      I think that a work around was already discovered. It entailed to first use setacl to modify the permissions on some registry entries and then to modify those and other registry entries.

  • by snarfies (115214) on Wednesday June 03, 2009 @02:59PM (#28199399) Homepage

    I want my... I want my... I want my .mkv...

  • by querist (97166) on Wednesday June 03, 2009 @03:10PM (#28199535) Homepage

    Unfortunately, Microsoft may get away with this under the guise of concern for security. There was a time (and perhaps these are still out there) when links to fake codec were used to compromise the victim's computer. (For an analysis of one of these, please see http://www.lavasoftsupport.com/index.php?showtopic=5302 [lavasoftsupport.com] )

    Most of us here know how this scenario unfolds: user is trying to view some form of media, often of "questionable" morality (either pr0n or "pirated" video) and the site claims that the user must install a new codec or upgrade to a new version of Flash or Quicktime or whatever and "kindly" has the link right there. It may even have the simple "click here" puzzle-piece link to install the proper codec/player so you can see the multimedia clip. Victim clicks, wanting simply to see the media clip, and presto!, the victim's machine is now a spam-spewing zombie.

    Of course, the link could install other things, too, but the point is that the "fake codec" ploy is common enough that Microsoft could easily claim that they are only allowing "approved" or "signed" codecs out of concern for security. They may state that third party codecs are allowed, and will permit Quicktime (for fear of a suit and driving people to Apple) and Flash/Shockwave, but other third-party codecs could be blocked through some combination of testing and/or certificate/signing fees.

    This one is too easy, and it just might work.

    (I find it strangely amusing that the captcha, given that these fake codecs are often seen in relation to pr0n sites, is "explicit".)

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Unfortunately, Microsoft may get away with this under the guise of concern for security.

      There is nothing to "get away with". They are just attempting to obsolete DirectShow just as they did with VfW and this is a maker of a small-time directshow codec that is mad over this change. Last time I checked, Microsoft had no obligation to continue using and support DirectShow indefinitely.

      • small-time directshow codec

        The Codec isn't small time; just the company. Last I checked, it was the lightest h.264 codec available as far as CPU usage. Very heavily optimized.

      • by DigitAl56K (805623) * on Wednesday June 03, 2009 @05:15PM (#28201415)

        You are wrong.

        They are changing the way DirectShow's intelligent connect works so that "preferred" filters, Microsoft's preferred filters that is (which happen to be Microsoft filters), are used for certain formats before the established DirectShow merit-based system is even consulted.

        I believe the same is true of Media Foundation, in that for either architecture you now need to implement custom code to avoid this default behavior.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by MozeeToby (1163751)

      The problem there is that locking out third party codecs doesn't do anything to solve the problem because 99% of users won't know that the codec/plugin they're told to download won't work. You could even find a way, I'm sure, to allow the video to play only after they've installed your malware if you wanted to be really sneaky about it.

    • by nine-times (778537) <nine.times@gmail.com> on Wednesday June 03, 2009 @04:09PM (#28200341) Homepage

      I think there's a good point in the article about the monopolistic problems at stake:

      When J.D. Rockefeller set out to monopolize the oil industry, there were several crucial areas where he attacked. He knew that he couldnâ(TM)t control all of the oil fields because it was literally bubbling out of the ground, but what he could control was the distribution method for getting oil to the end customer.

      It's also particularly noteworthy when talking about media. For example, what do we tend to call those companies that control the music business? "Record companies". All those companies essentially started out as just the companies that manufactured the records, but it was the control of the distribution media of music that put them in control of the entire music industry. That's why record companies are so afraid of people buying music online. Online sales give transfer a lot of control over distribution from the record companies to the online retailers, which could eventually make record companies completely obsolete.

      I know this sounds like I'm going off-topic, but it's very important to know this when you're talking about Microsoft and media formats. Microsoft spent a lot of money developing their own media formats and DRM, and then pushing those formats and DRM on everyone. From the record companies' point of view, this was a good thing because it gave them increased control over online distribution, but what they may not have noticed is that it also gave Microsoft a foot in the door. It's pretty obvious that Microsoft stood to gain a piece of the action in the media industry, as well as another monopoly that could reenforce their OS monopoly.

      What seems to have tripped them up is (a) the most popular portable media player not supporting their media formats; and (b) the music industry finally dropping DRM. If not for those two things, we might be in a real nightmare situation by now.

  • Fake codecs (Score:5, Informative)

    by Alari (181784) on Wednesday June 03, 2009 @03:10PM (#28199541) Journal

    Fake "codecs" are one of the main ways windows PCs currently get infected with spyware/viruses. This comes from all the people who install Limewire with no AV and then download the first thousand results for "porn".

    VLC - has all codecs built-in. Use it. :)

    • by Amouth (879122)

      there are some VLC doesn't run - or at least doesn't identify right.. for them i try MediaPlayerClasic.. if it fails both i assume it isn't worth watching or whom ever made it is a complete moron -

      in which.. it isn't worth watching

      • by TypoNAM (695420)

        I agree about using MediaPlayerClassic as an alternative to VLC on some media. For example I have been using VLC (0.8.6 is my favorite version) for years to watch DVDs so I can bypass the no-skip bullshit DVD commercials, but some new DVD movies are no longer working with VLC. Taken is one of them. I can view the menu and such just fine, but the second the actual movie is played VLC just gets a bunch of errors in the debug window and then stops playing as if I hit the stop button. I even tried the latest re

  • Hedgemaster 1.0 (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mpapet (761907) on Wednesday June 03, 2009 @03:28PM (#28199731) Homepage

    This is a perfect example of salesmanship, optimism and double-speak. Excerpts from TFA:

    we do plan to open source pretty much our entire eco-system,
    Pretty much eh? That sounds interesting. Where can I sign up for your newsletter?

    if the business warrants it
    If eh? That's a pretty important article leading that phrase. I could get really excited without that "if."

    and right now it looks like does
    Ohhh the winds are blowing your way eh? Well, lets wait and see. Your investors might have another opinion on the matter. Still kind of exciting. I'm feeling a little wobbly in the knees and all!

    We can still open source it and monetize it and also release our encoder as well,
    You mean like how Sun tried to make Java free-ish? History is working against you on this one. But, you know, crazy things have happened before, so I'm even more excited. Not only are my knees wobbly, but my stomach's got a few butterflies in it!

    but at the same time weâ(TM)re very cautious about what we do.
    Ohh there's the double-speak. You were getting me all fired up imagining relatively simple playback on a plurality of devices until that line. Was I supposed to ignore that one?

    Like Matroska, the Haali media splitter may not be open source, but it is free
    Coitus interuptus Mr. Streaming Codec dude. Coitus interuptus.....
    Ohhh you mean like those other binary blobs that work *so* well? Is this free like so many 'free' applications I download off the internet that are supposed to speed up my windows machine? I get all these adverts popping up everywhere and that's just the beginning.

    • by EdZ (755139)
      MKV is already free (as in speech). The Haali media splitter is already free (as in beer), but there are others that are free (as in speech). CoreAVC isn't, but there are other h.264 decoders that are free (as in speech). And all of these work WELL, and are not 'nearly there' like Vorbis.
  • by fahrvergnugen (228539) <fahrv AT hotmail DOT com> on Wednesday June 03, 2009 @03:34PM (#28199825) Homepage

    We've been waiting for years for a killer video container, and it appears to me that mkv is probably going to be the one. It seems poised to become the mp3 of video. There's finally a container that can be played back in an acceptable number of hardware devices, with acceptable quality, at acceptable filesizes. The lack of file-embedded metadata in the container is still a problem, one that's been holding back online video distribution for years, but external sites such as imdb and thetvdb seem to be working around this well enough.

    iPod / iTunes took off like a rocket imho because of a few key factors:
    -They created hardware that followed the pipe dream of the mp3: A portable player capable of holding many gigs of music in the size of a deck of cards, with headphone out. This wasn't innovation, such solutions were already on the market, but theirs was the most beautiful.;
    -They smoothed out the rough usability edges in existing portable hdd player solutions by offering great desktop software in iTunes, which took advantage of metadata to create not only a really compelling library system, but also provided very tight integration that was intuitively the same across the iPod & iTunes.
    -They offered a legal means of acquiring music on demand for their solution.
    -They made it ridiculously easy to use their device with black market content.

    Because Apple were the first with the sack to give people their dream device, with a sensible organized interface, a legal means of acquiring content, and full integration with illegal content, they dominated the marketplace.

    Video has been held back, as I said above, by a couple of things. The first was the lack of file-embedded metadata (I can't search for all files in my library directed by James Cameron, for instance), but the ubiquity of always-on wireless connections has solved some of that, and external metadata references are now acceptable. Second, it's been held back by codecs & containers that were way out of date, and don't deliver broadcast-quality (especially HDTV) at acceptable filesizes. The average mp4 vs a highly compressed digital cable channel might be equivalent, but the market wants DVD quality without any sacrifice from downloaded video.

    Finally, video has also been held back by the lack of elegant playback solutions. Apple missed the boat with the AppleTV by failing to step up and partner with the black market, which is why the device hasn't been a wild success. Software solutions based on the xbmc core, such as boxee, plex, and uh.... xbmc, are doing much better, but they're still software solutions dependent on having a PC. People want a fully-integrated solution.

    Mark my words: The first company with the temerity to market a device that will take a user's existing library and integrate it into an elegant set-top solution is going to CLEAN UP. They will dominate the set-top completely for years to come. It looks like TiVO is going to miss the boat, as is Apple. Are there any dark horses in this race?

    Lest anyone think that I'm pipe dreaming, a working solution can be assembled out of off-the-shelf parts right now. Here's what I built in a weekend for about $700:

    Hardware:
    -Mac Mini c2d (winter '09)
    -Harmony 720 remote
    -DisplayPort --> HDMI cable
    -Optical Audio cable
    -1TB firewire-800 external storage from pricewatch

    Software:
    -Plex
    -SwitchResX (only necessary for SDTV or older HDTVs)
    -RipIt
    -SABNZBD+

    Subscriptions:
    -Usenet service ($11/mo)
    -Unnamed usenet header indexer ($.75 / week, roughly)
    -rss feed for TV show subscriptions (free)

    With these pieces, I've built a DVR that automatically downloads the shows I like the same day they air. Downloads are FAST, maxing out my internet connection. I can play back 1080p blu-ray rips with full surround sound & 0 dropped frames or stuttering. I can drop any DVD into the reader, and have it copied into the library and spit back out again once it's done. And it's all done with a universal remote in

    • see 'popcorn hour'. that's mostly the media streamer of choice and almost ALL you hear talk about is mkv this and mkv that.

      clearly, it won.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by fahrvergnugen (228539)

        Popcorn Hour suffers by not including local storage (though it can be added later), or a disk reader. Not having used one, I can't comment on their interface. They're closer than anybody though.

      • Not entirely. I own a Popcorn Hour A110, and while I do love its ability to play basically any codec I toss at it, the UI leaves a LOT to be desired, which is what the parent mentioned about missing metadata from MKV. Any of the jukebox softwares for it need a ridiculously tedious weeding through of all media stored for them to appear well, and even then, the UI is slow and feels unresponsive. The built-in UI doesn't even have a "sort by date" functionality. This is all due to a very weak auxiliary processo

    • by metamatic (202216)

      We've been waiting for years for a killer video container, and it appears to me that mkv is probably going to be the one. It seems poised to become the mp3 of video. There's finally a container that can be played back in an acceptable number of hardware devices, with acceptable quality, at acceptable filesizes.

      My AppleTV, PS3, BlackBerry, DVD player and iPod will all play MPEG-4. None of them will play MKV.

      Can you give a few examples of popular hardware devices that'll play MKV?

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by yuna49 (905461)

        My AppleTV, PS3, BlackBerry, DVD player and iPod will all play MPEG-4. None of them will play MKV. Can you give a few examples of popular hardware devices that'll play MKV?

        Well, considering that all of those you list have a stake in closed architectures, I'm not too surprised. Neither Apple nor Sony has ever shown much interest in supporting open standards. Have you yet discovered that your PS3 also won't play all flavors of DivX/XviD [avsforum.com] even in the AVI container?

        While some DVD players support DivX and often

    • by Big Boss (7354)

      Hmmm... I REALLY like the look of that Plex software. I'm going to install that on my Mac Mini tonight and give it a go. How are you getting 5.1 sound out of the mini? I don't remember seeing an optical port on mine. Or is it part of the headphone just like the old Minidisc players did it?

      I really like MythTV, but this looks really nice as well. Always nice to have options.

    • MKV cannot become the mp3 of video, because MKV is only a container, while mp3 is a codec.

      The problem with container formats is that it is difficult to explain to the customer what they are. For example, say my device supports MKV. But then a customer puts an MKV on with a TrueHD audio stream in it and it doesn't play. The customer gets confused. This has been a problem since the TIFF days. And it is a big part of what's going wrong with ODF. Sure, anyone can write one, but you can't necessarily read anyone

      • You're right, I do confuse container with codec a bit. I should have said that *264 video + mkv container == mp3 audio + mpeg container.

      • by True Grit (739797) *

        And it is a big part of what's going wrong with ODF.

        The only thing "going wrong" with ODF is that MS is playing its usual games with anything they don't like, and at the top of their don't-like list is open standards they can't control.

        I mean really, the claim that its ODF's fault might have had some credibility had MS not already released a plugin that provided perfectly valid, cross-application ODF support. They already knew how to do things the "right" way, but when they later updated Office, they deliberately chose not to.

    • by mako1138 (837520)

      I've been using mkv for years, but never thought about its lack of support for metadata. That's an interesting point.

      • by atamido (1020905)

        Matroska has excellent support for metadata, the problem is that no one uses it. You can specify the director, actors, URLs, dates, etc for it. You can even attach files like a JPEG for the cover art. But few people bother to include this information.

    • Only a short comment - calling iTunes "great desktop software" might be considered delusional in some places :). iTunes is fairly average at best, it's media management is pretty poor, and it's library functionality is pretty bad. MediaMonkey is a far far better piece of software for managing your media.

      • by dkf (304284)

        MediaMonkey is a far far better piece of software [than iTunes] for managing your media.

        But does it integrate with an online music store and the iPod to provide an overall non-sucky experience? Nobody would use iTunes - well, except perhaps on a Mac - without those other components; it's the whole package that's key.

        In general, it just goes to show that a vertically-integrated system can, when done well overall, stand to have some parts that are only so-so when viewed in isolation. This general insight applies in many other areas as well (e.g., MS are masters of it with Office and Exchange...)

    • by feepness (543479)
      I've been curious about building one as well, but quick question... will it do kids shows?

      With a two and four year old in the house, Mickey Mouse is a must.
    • WTF? The Mac Mini costs that much by itself after tax. I call bs. I would never use a mac for anything TV related. In that department, a PC can do the same job for half the cost. After all, you're going to use some kind of 10-foot interface anyway so it doesn't matter that Windows looks like a piece of crap. What's the point of a Mac in your living room unless you plan to buy every TV show for $2 a pop?!!

      PS: I wrote this on one of my two MacBooks.

    • by LanMan04 (790429)

      I have an extremely similar setup, but the main issue is BANDWIDTH CAPS. All my TV viewing for a month in HD goes well over the 250GB/month Comcast allots. :(

      PS - God bless Astraweb!

  • How much malware could be stopped if Porn sites couldn't prompt you to install a special codec just to view this free porn?

    • by atamido (1020905)

      None? A malware site can still prompt a user that they "need to install this software to view the video". It doesn't matter whether or not the reasoning is sound, the user will still click on the link.

  • > and weighs in on a controversial decision by Microsoft to block third party filter support in future versions of Windows media player

    Wait wait wait. What?? How does this affect Windows Media Center? (I think it uses Media Player to play content, right?) If I can no longer use third party codecs, I will have no choice but to switch to something like MythTV. Wow, I'm glad I heard about this before upgrading to Windows 7. If this is really the case, continuing with Windows in the media center is a

  • It isn't like WMP losing support for third party codecs is anything big. When can you ever view videos in there correctly anyway? 90% of the time theres an error message, or theres no audio, or theres no video. I only use WiMP for mp3s, because of the toolbar, and I havn't even been using it for that since I got itunes, because itunes has the same thing, and does not suck.

    Yeah, seriously, VLC is the only option for media file playback IMO.
  • I have tried to play plenty of .mkv files, and have yet to see a single one that was encoded correctly. I don't care if the container is technically excellent, if the software people are using to make the damn things is not going to let them make working files I'm not going to want the files, I'm not going to want the format.
    • by Shikaku (1129753)

      You use Firefox/Opera because it has the features you want correct? You switched from the default browser to something that has better features.

      You can do the same with a video player. Try using VLC.

    • by atamido (1020905)

      Strange, I never come across one that doesn't play correctly. I'm a particularly big fan of subtitles that can be rendered in the font/color of my choosing.

  • The Society for Motion Picture Engineers has already gone to great lengths (in coordination with the EBU) to create some containers, such as GXF [www.ebu.ch], and MXF [wikipedia.org].

    MXF is already being used as part of the Digital Cinema Initiative (DCI) [wikipedia.org] spec that delivers standardized digital cinema content to theaters. There is already a registered MIME type for MXF [rfc-archive.org].

    By the way, you can be mad at Microsoft and their love of Windows Media, but then there is Apple Final Cut Pro and QuickTime (ack!).

    • by atamido (1020905)

      Interesting, I'd never heard of GXF. MXF is interesting, and is similar to Matroska in some ways. Unfortunately it was substantially more complex the last time I looked at it (draft status). MXF has a lot of features built in specifically for the editing/studio level that don't make sense for consumers. Matroska is much better at the consumer level, but would require substantial work to reach feature parity with MXF.

      • by TheSync (5291)

        Interesting, I'd never heard of GXF./I.

        GXF is a fairly simple (57 page standard) container which is best for exchanging completed video programs. GXF demux filters are built into VLC and FFMPEG.

        MXF was built to do everything (more like 500 pages of standards). It has a rich object model, but the number of capabilities makes interoperability challenging except in limited configurations (such as various registered disclosure documents in SMPTE for the carriage of specific codecs in specific systems, such as

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Are you saying that this mkv can run on a computer without DVD underneath it, at all ? As in, without a video disk, without any purchasing, and without any ownership ?

    That sounds preposterous to me.

    If it were true (and I doubt it), then companies would be selling mkv without a DVD. This clearly is not happening, so there must be some error in your calculations. I hope you realise that DVD is more than just plastic ? Its a whole system that runs the video from start to finish, and that is a very difficult th

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