DVD-quality images can be transmitted using just 1.5Mbps of bandwidth A Hong Kong company has announced a world first in high-quality video compression that could lead to better video transmission over the internet. The Applied Science and Technology Research Institute (Astri) has created a technology it calls MPEG-4 Turbo, a software technology for video compression and decompression that can be put on a single chip. Chao Sheng-chang, vice-president for communication and application software, wireless technology at Astri, said the new technology was considerably advanced. 'Unlike previous generations of video compression technology, MPEG-4 Turbo maintains a good balance between bit rate and video quality. The significant reduction in the bit rate will enable good quality video to be transmitted more efficiently through the internet even if the bandwidth connection is limited or fluctuating.' He claimed this was the first successful implementation of the latest video compression standards on a single chip. This means that DVD-quality video can be transmitted using only 1.5 megabits per second (Mbps) of bandwidth. It would be possible, he said, to create a DVD-quality video and put it on a normal CD-Rom. Mr Chao said while the project, which began six months ago, was not perfect, it was leading the way. Ultimately, he hopes to get the chip down to a small enough size that it could be put into a mobile phone. Mr Chao said the technology development was the easy part: the real challenge would be when it came time to sell it. The announcement comes less than two weeks after China announced its enhanced versatile disc (EVD) standard, which supporters at the Ministry of the Information Industries hope will replace DVDs in the country. However, Mr Chao said he doubted whether the EVD would have a strong future. 'The licensing is very expensive, and it will be difficult to get others to come on board.' As many consumers own DVDs, and little content is likely to be available on EVD, manufacturers of the new machines would be compelled to make their EVD players multi-system, while still having to pay licence fees for the DVD standard. For this reason, the new players would be too expensive for many buyers, Mr Chao said. He said he was also unconcerned about the growing popularity of the DivX MPEG-4 codec. 'It is still an MPEG4 ASP codec technology, not an H.264/MPEG4 AVC codec technology. So the benefits of H.264 over MPEG4 still apply. DivX has been accepted by, for instance, DVD player manufacturers this year, so it will be a very serious competitor technology to H.264 in the consumer electronics market. But this is not so for enterprise, carrier or broadcast markets.' He said it would help if Astri could move before DivX became established, but more important would be to aim MPEG-4 Turbo at a different market. 'We might do a lot better if we aimed our business at the carriers rather than the consumer electronics market. We may also look at the professional consumer market or high-end PC user who likes to play with this kind of technology.' Hong Kong's Permanent Secretary for Commerce, Industry and Technology Francis Ho Suen-wai said he was delighted with the new development. 'Astri was founded by the Hong Kong SAR Government with a view to strengthening our research and development capabilities for fostering the growth of technology-based industries in Hong Kong and the evolution of Hong Kong into a knowledge-based economy,' Mr Ho said. Mr Chao was confident Hong Kong could make a difference.