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Top technology companies develop royalty-free media formats

Amazon, Cisco, Google, Intel, Microsoft, Mozilla and Netflix have joined forces to develop fast, interoperable and royalty-free online media formats

Seven top technology companies have formed an alliance to develop free next-generation media formats.

The Alliance for Open Media is an open-source project set up by Amazon, Cisco, Google, Intel, Microsoft, Mozilla and Netflix.

The founding members have committed to contributing technology and expertise to meet growing internet demand for top quality video, audio, imagery and streaming across devices of all kinds.

However, the group’s initial focus will be on developing a next-generation video format that is interoperable and open, optimised for the web and scalable to any device at any bandwidth.

The proposed video format will be designed with a low computational footprint and capable of consistent, highest quality, real-time video delivery for commercial and non-commercial content.

The move comes after news that a new industry group – called HEVC Advance – is threatening to demand royalties for the HEVC video codec.

While the HEVC codec promises to halve the bandwidth required for streaming online video, or offer higher resolutions with increasing bandwidth usage, it is also expected to be expensive.

HEVC Advance is promising to demand a royalty of 0.5% of revenue from any broadcaster that uses the codec for streaming, which could jeopardise services such as Netflix, according to Ars Technica.

The Alliance for Open Media aims to produce an open, royalty-free video codec specification based on the contributions of members, along with binding specifications for media format, content encryption and adaptive streaming.

"Customer expectations for media delivery continue to grow, and fulfilling their expectations requires the concerted energy of the entire ecosystem," said Gabe Frost, the Alliance for Open Media’s executive director.

"The Alliance for Open Media brings together the leading experts in the entire video stack to work together in pursuit of open, royalty-free and interoperable solutions for the next generation of video delivery."

Patent hazard

While the alliance will operate under the W3C patent rules and use the Apache 2.0 licence with members waiving their patent rights, Frost has given no indication of how the group plans to ensure that the resultant media specifications will not infringe patents held by non-members.

Read more about video codecs

Previous attempts at royalty-free media formats – such as Microsoft’s VC-1 video codec – have failed, because of subsequent royalty-incurring patent claims by other tech companies.

The Alliance for Open Media is a project of the Joint Development Foundation, an independent non-profit organisation that provides the corporate and legal infrastructure to enable groups to establish and operate standards and source code development collaborations.

The Alliance for Open Media said information on how to join the group as well as other information will be made available later this year.

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