MPEG-4 is an ISO/IEC standard developed by MPEG (Moving Picture Experts Group), the committee that also developed the Emmy Award winning standards known as MPEG-1 and MPEG-2. These standards made interactive video on CD-ROM and Digital Television possible. MPEG-4 is the result of another international effort involving hundreds of researchers and engineers from all over the world. MPEG-4, whose formal ISO/IEC designation is ISO/IEC 14496, was finalized in October 1998 and became an International Standard in the first months of 1999. The fully backward compatible extensions under the title of MPEG-4 Version 2 were frozen at the end of 1999, to acquire the formal International Standard Status early 2000. Some work, on extensions in specific domains, is still in progress.

MPEG-4 builds on the proven success of three fields:

• Digital television;
• Interactive graphics applications (synthetic content) ;
• Interactive multimedia (World Wide Web, distribution of and access to content)

MPEG-4 provides the standardized technological elements enabling the integration of the production, distribution and content access paradigms of the three fields.

More information about MPEG-4 can be found at MPEG’s home page: www.cselt.it/mpeg . This web page contains links to a wealth of information about MPEG, including much about MPEG-4, many publicly available documents, several lists of ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ and links to other MPEG-4 web pages.

The standard can be bought from ISO, send mail to sales@iso.ch. Notably, the complete software for MPEG-4 version 1 can be bought on a CD ROM, for 56 Swiss Francs (approximately 40 US Dollars). This software is free of copyright restrictions when used for implementing MPEG-4 compliant technology. (This does not mean that the software is fee of patents)

Taken from the MPEG home page at:
http://www.cselt.it/mpeg/standards/mpeg-4/mpeg-4.htm

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While MPEG is not my employer I do work for the same company as MPEGs founder and president Leonardo Chiarligione who is the head of the multimedia division of Telecom Italia Lab where I used to work.
MPEG-4 sounds absolutely wonderful as a standard, but when you actually start trying to implement things based on it you realise that large sections of the specification (like body animation) are aspirational, not having been fully implemented anywhere at all - there is a slightly buggy VRML-EAI-Java-applet using MPEG4 Body Animation Parameters (BAPs) at http://ligwww.epfl.ch/~babski/StandardBody/mpeg4/ , but that hardly counts. The reference player for general 3D (BIFS) is currently pretty iffy too, my former BBC colleagues tell me.

Still, it does seem more likely than not that one day the applications of MPEG4 will live up to its specification, and I look forward to that day. For the time being, it at least provides a unified theoretical framework for the encoding and streaming of many different kinds of multimedia - it's just that applications trying to make use of this framework may not entirely work as intended with anyone else's players.

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