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BBC Wants Help With Dirac Codec 296

Posted by michael
from the fawlty-towers dept.
Number Ten Ox writes "According to The Register the BBC wants help to develop their open source video codec Dirac. '[Lead developer Dr. Thomas] Davies said the codec could live on anything from mobile phones to high-definition TVs but not before a lot of further work is completed. For one thing, Dirac doesn't currently work in real-time. Davies also reckons that the compression offered by the technology could be further optimised. The BBC is working on integrating the technology with its other systems, but the corporation would welcome more help in developing Dirac.' Sounds like something worth helping with."
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BBC Wants Help With Dirac Codec

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  • BBC rules! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by orangeguru (411012) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @11:33AM (#10460003) Homepage
    Compared to many other broadcoasters the BBC has a long and excellent record of producing great programms AND embracing the web/technology.

    Certainly a good 'partner' to support ... compared to companies like Real ...
    • Re:BBC rules! (Score:3, Insightful)

      by matt_wilts (249194)
      Don't be so sure - if that was the case, they'd be streaming their current content using MPG or perhaps OGG. As it stands, they use Real!!

      Matt
      • Re:BBC rules! (Score:5, Informative)

        by Mike McTernan (260224) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @12:05PM (#10460405) Homepage

        I think the only reason that the use Real is that the streams are more proprietary and harder to rip (for the novice in anycase), and it probably makes some copyright holders happier to let the BBC re-webcast certain content.

        See here [bbc.co.uk]:
        "What's the problem with Windows Media Player?


        When the BBC began publishing audio and video content Real Media was the most secure form of streaming. Unfortunately Microsoft no longer supports Real content. Consequently, many of the later versions of the Windows Media Player will not play our clips. This may change in the future. NB: Some World Service clips are also streamed for the Windows Player. "
      • Re:BBC rules! (Score:4, Insightful)

        by 0x461FAB0BD7D2 (812236) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @12:07PM (#10460420) Journal
        What's wrong with the Real codec?

        I've seen things compressed with RMVB which are on par with DivX and Xvid in terms of quality, but RMVB produces smaller filesizes.

        Do not confuse the codec itself with the designated player. Real Alternative works too, without spyware, if that is what you're insinuating.
    • Re:BBC rules! (Score:3, Informative)

      by junklight (183583)
      Indeed. In case you where wondering *why* they want to make a codec take a read of this:

      http://eff.org/IP/BBC_CMSC_testimony.php

      The Creative Archive is a really exciting venture and one of the projects that gives me small hope that the British Government may yet get the hang of copyright and online content
      • Re:BBC rules! (Score:3, Interesting)

        by LordK2002 (672528)

        The Creative Archive is a really exciting venture and one of the projects that gives me small hope that the British Government may yet get the hang of copyright and online content.

        The BBC almost certainly has got the hang of online content and copyright, but the BBC is not the British Government: it is an entirely independent organisation funded by the TV License (which is authorised and enforced by the government).

        By contrast, the government is all too happy to jump onto Corporate America's IP bandwag

        • Re:BBC rules! (Score:3, Interesting)

          by junklight (183583)
          I work for another Establishment organisation and we and others are working on improving the situation. Having the BBC as a shining light really does help.

  • What am I missing? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by cslarson (625649) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @11:33AM (#10460004)
    If they want to make an open source video codec, why don't they just support and help further develop the ogg video codec? Would the two codecs be so different that they are both needed?
    • and dirac.
      And that is: Dirac exists.
      (or do you mean that bastard child of a vp codec derivate?)
      • Wrong. Theora is nearly there, whereas Dirac isn't even working in realtime (RTFS). And, it lets them stay with one paradigm (I can't believe I just used that word) because Theora has an audio analogue (ogg) whereas Dirac doesn't.

        And that's ignoring the benefit of being involved with an OSS project that, while rough around the edges, has a large development community already (both Theora devs and the potential pool of Ogg devs who could be enticed to work on Theora), rather than starting a new OSS projec
    • You're missing a lot (Score:5, Informative)

      by Crosma (798939) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @11:46AM (#10460177) Homepage

      Dirac is a wavelet codec. The technology is far more advanced than Theora's. In fact, until On2 came along, Ogg were working on a video wavelet codec called Ogg Tarkin. They want with open sourcing VP3 because it would be quicker and easier, nothing more. As the BBC are demonstrating, putting together a competent wavelet-based video codec is non-trivial to say the least.

      Put simply, Ogg Theora is already outdated. The source material (On2's VP3 codec) does not match any decent MPEG-4 codec. The BBC would be wasting their time by messing around with dated tech.

      That said, Theora is usable and just about the only decent patent unencumbered video codec in existance. Until Dirac is finished, Theora will remain the sane choice for those who want to stay legal without paying through the teeth.

      If and when Dirac is ready, it will blow everything else away. It will be worth the wait.

      • by bullitB (447519) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @12:46PM (#10460847)
        Dirac is a wavelet codec. The technology is far more advanced than Theora's. In fact, until On2 came along, Ogg were working on a video wavelet codec called Ogg Tarkin. They want with open sourcing VP3 because it would be quicker and easier, nothing more.

        This isn't really true. Wavelet codecs are not necessarily better than non-wavelet codecs. This is especially true in the case of video, because, as of yet, no one has figured out a way to efficiently peform motion estimation in the context of a wavelet codec. While wavelets in the context of still images have done very well (see JPEG2000), most attempts in video have not been so successful (see Indeo 5 or...Tarkin).

        I think it should say a lot that after briefly experimenting with wavelets in MPEG-4 "texture" compression, the smart people behind AVC (aka H.26L/H.264) decided to completely forget about wavelets in their next codec. In fact, AVC doesn't even use a classic DCT, it uses an "integer transform," which is generally considered of even worse quality than the DCT used in MPEG-1/2/4SP.

        The most likely reason Xiph started video work on Tarkin with wavelets first is that wavlets are completely patent free. When On2 granted them rights to use their DCT-related patents from VP3, that no longer became an issue.

        Put simply, Ogg Theora is already outdated. The source material (On2's VP3 codec) does not match any decent MPEG-4 codec.

        This is a real oversimplification of matters. The Theora guys can tune their codec (a lot), and there is a lot of stuff a VP3/Theora encoder could do that an MPEG-4 encoder couldn't. There was a time when Vorbis was not even up to the level of MP3. A few years of tuning later, and now it's beating everyone.

        If and when Dirac is ready, it will blow everything else away. It will be worth the wait.

        I've heard this one before.
        Video compression is around 15 years old now. For maybe the last 10, "wavelets" has been a hot keyword that gets people thinking "Ooo, that'll change everything!" The confusion got even worse with JPEG-2000, since now everyone seems to think that the gains in efficiency from JPEG to JPEG-2000 will be directly applicable to video (ignoring the facts that a lot of that comes from JP2's arithmetic coder and improved predictor, both of which are already being used in video codecs). Point is, I'd look at Dirac with a lot of skepticism. The fact that it is currently unable to decode video in a meaning manner at normal speed concerns me greatly. This suggests that it's already 10-100x times slower than current generation video codecs. Frankly, I think making something 100x faster (needed for Dirac) is probably going to be harder than making it perform 50% better (needed for Theora),
        • by TimoT (67567) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @01:40PM (#10461500) Homepage
          The most likely reason Xiph started video work on Tarkin with wavelets first is that wavlets are completely patent free.
          Hehe. ROTFLMAO. I have done data compression research and there are very few mathematical ideas as patent encumbered as wavelets. A quick naive search of USPTO patents with wavelet and data compression brings up about 250 patents and just wavelets about 10x as much and that's not even looking very closely.

          TimoT
          • by bullitB (447519) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @08:02PM (#10465783)
            I have done data compression research and there are very few mathematical ideas as patent encumbered as wavelets.

            True, my statement "wavlets are completely patent free" is errant. (And not just because I spelled wavelets incorrectly. Ouch.)

            Wavelets are, however less patent encumbered in the context in which they are used in Tarkin and Dirac, which is...why they're being used in Tarkin and Dirac.
        • by Bloater (12932) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @04:17PM (#10463458) Homepage Journal
          > The fact that it is currently unable to decode video in a meaning manner at normal speed concerns me greatly. This suggests that it's already 10-100x times slower than current generation video codecs.

          Until recent optimisations, I haven't been able to decode broadcast resolution video realtime with any theora players. The issue is C/C++ vs vector assembler (ie, SSE/3dNOW) for the main transform.

          The DCT has many fast implementations, the Mallet transform doesn't - lifting is one part of that, but the wavelet filters (along with the lifting algorithm) need implementing in assembler.
    • by Ikkyu (84373)
      The Theora codec is a discrete consine transform, while dirac codec is a wavelet based. They are completely diffent ways of looking at video data and wavelett coding is showing promise as having higher compression rates and better quality.

      What we really need is something that is scales with bandwidth, the more you receive the better your quality.
  • dirac vs. theora? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by crayz (1056)
    Have there been any comparisons? Do we really need two fully scalable open-source video codecs?

    Also - the BBC is funded by the British government. When did they get a mandate to spend money developing video codecs. I don't have a problem with government-funded "arts" but this seems a bit beyond the normal scope of things
    • Re:dirac vs. theora? (Score:5, Informative)

      by onion2k (203094) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @11:38AM (#10460073) Homepage
      The BBC is funded by government, but thats where the relationship ends. The UK government has absolutely no say whatsoever in what the BBC spends its money on. If the BBC wants to develop video codecs then theres nothing the UK government can do about it. Thats one of the reasons the BBC news is able to remain impartial, and often reports on the UK government making a mess off things. See the Hutton report for details. :)
      • Re:dirac vs. theora? (Score:3, Informative)

        by 91degrees (207121)
        The BBC is not funded by the government. It's funded by the public through the licence fee. The government never gets to see it.
      • by provolt (54870) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @11:58AM (#10460310)
        That has to be the funniest thing I've read in a long while. I think it's even funnier because it's moderated as "Informative".

        For those who don't get the joke, read the wikipedia [wikipedia.org] entry for the Hutton Report.

        • Re:dirac vs. theora? (Score:3, Informative)

          by gowen (141411)
          Well hang about. The BBC said something about the government. The government got very upset about one specific allegation ("The 45 minute claim was inserted by govt spin doctors against the advice of the JIC") which Gilligan inserted off the cuff and which no-one believes to be true (even Gilligan admitted that was wrong).

          The government then said "Will you retract that, as it isn't true". The BBC asked Gilligan, he stood by it. The BBC said we won't retract that.

          Flash forward ... Hutton says: "The B
      • On the other hand, it is constrained by its Charter [bbc.co.uk], which talks about getting approval for some things from the appropriate Secretary of State.
    • When did they get a mandate to spend money developing video codecs.

      Governments have deep pockets.

      That issue aside, governments also have an interest in setting a base-level standard (as they have done for other transmission media) that all operators must incorporate into their devices. That "minimum functionality" mandate does not inhibit the ability of the manufacturer to propose, design, and implement their own protocols.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 07, 2004 @11:41AM (#10460110)
      No the BBC is NOT funded by the UK Government.
      The BBC has tax (i.e. the TV Licence Fee) raising powers of it's own - and is entirely independent of funding from government.
      If the BBC *was* funded by government it wouldn't be considered trustworthy. It wouldn't be the "gold standard" of news reporting world wide that it is.
      • Re:dirac vs. theora? (Score:3, Interesting)

        by imroy (755)

        The Australian Broadcasting Corporation [abc.net.au] is government funded. It has specific rules about non-partisan bias, especially during election campaigns (like right now). Although its very position (non-commercial, etc...) tends to give it a slight bias towards the left, which the current right-wing coalition government has been whinging about on occasion. The youth-targeted Triple J [abc.net.au] radio regularly pays out commercial radio too.

    • by serviscope_minor (664417) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @11:41AM (#10460111) Journal
      Have there been any comparisons? Do we really need two fully scalable open-source video codecs?


      Dirac is a next generation codec. It is also the only one using wavelets (like JPEG2000). Is there an argument for developing new codecs which compress better than current ones? Very much I'd say, unless you want all technological progress to stop here.

      Also - the BBC is funded by the British government. When did they get a mandate to spend money developing video codecs.


      They are a broadcasting organisation. Video codecs are very much part of broadcasting. They also did a lot of development on digital TV, which is soon going to replace all analogue TV by law in the UK. If they use this codec to put their archives up on the internet, then they certainly do have a good reason to do this development.

      I don't have a problem with government-funded "arts" but this seems a bit beyond the normal scope of things

      Is it? What about all that government funded science and tech research?

    • Re:dirac vs. theora? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by JohnGrahamCumming (684871) * <slashdotNO@SPAMjgc.org> on Thursday October 07, 2004 @11:45AM (#10460167) Homepage Journal
      > Also - the BBC is funded by the British
      > government. When did they get a mandate to spend
      > money developing video codecs. I don't have a
      > problem with government-funded "arts" but this
      > seems a bit beyond the normal scope of things

      Really? The BBC needs to stay up to date with technology in order to do the best job possible under its mandate. So that means that they are going to start out doing radio, spend money making television work the way they like it, then start promoting teletext (in the form of Ceefax), brand their own computer, and now they want to do the Internet their way (through an open codec).

      It's worth reading their own history [bbc.co.uk]
      for a perspective on just how much technical work the BBC has done since 1920. See also here [bbc.co.uk].

      John.
    • The BBC has a long history of R&D [bbc.co.uk], based at Kingswood Warren in Surrey. Many important developments were made, under the funding of the BBC charter and through private industry. I'm sure the BBC's development of an open source video codec can only be good.

      N.B I used to work for a broadcast equipment manufacturer, Snell & Wilcox, alongside many ex BBC engineers, and they employ some very good people.
    • Have there been any comparisons? Do we really need two fully scalable open-source video codecs?

      That is true. So why was theora created? From TFA, they have been working on it for 3 years. From what I gather, theora is 2 years old.

      "The technology - first conceived more than three years ago - is scheduled to go into beta within the next 12 to 15 months. "

      I thought that Open Source code was about choice. Because their codec work is funded and has been being under development for a while, it could actua

    • the BBC is funded by the British government

      I think you mean the British people.

  • H-264? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TiMac (621390) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @11:34AM (#10460014)
    From mobile phones to HD, huh? Sounds a lot like the H-264/AVC codec that Apple is including as part of 10.4 Tiger [apple.com] that is an open standard that's been ratified.

    What's the advantage to using Dirac over a standard?

  • by reporter (666905) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @11:35AM (#10460028) Homepage
    99% of the files used to test the new Dirac CODEC will be pornopraphy. Most of it will be weighted towards luscious, blonde lesbians engaged sexual acts that almost defy gravity.

    • Where do I sign up?
    • by 0x0d0a (568518)
      Remember that the famous Lena image, which was cut from a Playboy magazine, was a *major* still image compression benchmark for a long time. It was a pretty bad choice -- it has a duplicate line at the top, it doesn't necessarily have the ideal color range, and worst of all, it was copyrighted.

      The urge to benchmark with smut is strong, but should be resisted.
  • Someone explain (Score:2, Interesting)

    by stratjakt (596332)
    What the major difference with this codec is. Why is the BBC developing their own codec instead of, for instance, throwing a few bucks towards OGM or XVid, or $YOUR_FAVORITE_OSS_CODEC?
  • I say help (Score:5, Informative)

    by AKAImBatman (238306) * <akaimbatman@gUUU ... inus threevowels> on Thursday October 07, 2004 @11:36AM (#10460042) Homepage Journal
    AKAIK, it's the only high compression video codec to not be encumbered by patents. (Although I've heard whispers from the OGG/Vorbis team.) That right there makes it worth development. Once the codec reaches a stable version, it can be integrated into free player solutions like HelixPlayer and VLC.
    • Release Dirac for QuickTime.
    • Optimize compression algorithms for individual CPUs. Is Dirac running on a Pentium 4? HyperThread it. Is it running on a PowerPC G4/G5? Optimize for AltiVec. Same applies for Sun's VMX, MIPS' MME, etc.
    • Release the codec under an Open Source license but one that will disallow forking or total appropriation (re: Not BSD or GPL).
    • Start a web community/forum and accompanying mailing list for it.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 07, 2004 @11:41AM (#10460105)
    Sourceforge project [sourceforge.net]
    BBC's Dirac homepage [bbc.co.uk]
  • by alistair (31390) <alistairNO@SPAMhotldap.com> on Thursday October 07, 2004 @11:43AM (#10460128)
    Anyone wondering why we need more Open Source Codecs should read the excellent companion article on today's register, a long OP Ed piece on Steve Ballmer entitled Love DRM or my family starves: why Steve Ballmer doesn't Get It [theregister.co.uk].

    In it Steve explains why the Digital Home has to come from Microsoft and specifically Microsoft's committment to DRM everywhere. A facinating, if biased piece.
  • by TheRealFoxFire (523782) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @11:44AM (#10460145)
    1. Not patent encumbered (compare to H.264 and MPEG2/4 including "open source" codecs like XviD)
    2. Next generation coding techniques (wavelets vs traditional DCT coding) (compare to Theora/MPEG 4)
    3. Capable of scaling down as well as up (compare to MPEG2)
    • 1. Not patent encumbered (compare to H.264 and MPEG2/4 including "open source" codecs like XviD)
      2. Next generation coding techniques (wavelets vs traditional DCT coding) (compare to Theora/MPEG 4)

      Aren't wavelets heavily patented? Or is it that only some wavelet-using techniques for encoding video are patented, and this method doesn't use those?

  • by Doc Ruby (173196) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @11:52AM (#10460249) Homepage Journal
    I will trade codec engineering time for TARDIS technology. In fact, that's where I got my TARDIS from!
  • outsourced (Score:5, Interesting)

    by 0xbeefcake (672592) <rob@xa[ ].demon.co.uk ['nia' in gap]> on Thursday October 07, 2004 @11:57AM (#10460309)
    I'm wary of the fact that this "call for help" comes just days after over 1400 BBC technology staff were out sourced to Siemens [theregister.co.uk]
    • Re:outsourced (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Blitzenn (554788)
      Apparently the managers feel that they can get their work done for nothing now with all this open source stuff going on. Are we putting ourselves out of work?
      • Re:outsourced (Score:3, Interesting)

        by oneiron (716313)
        Are we putting ourselves out of work?

        Possibly? Which one is more important to you, your career in software development or the good of mankind being at the core of software development? Which do you think is more important to the rest of the open-source community? Can you have it both ways?

        Tough questions... Is it even worth bothering to guess at answers?
    • BBC Technology (RIP) have nothing to do with Research and Design. BBCT has been a seperate (wholey owned) company, making a profit, for years. They're concerned with a lot of things, from boring PC, email, SAP maintenence, to Big Ass Satelite Dish control and signal routing.

      Broadcast Equipment, (at least in News, and I think elsewhere), is looked after by a division that's still the BBC. For now.

      R&D are basically a seperate department that noone else in the corporation has anything to do with. We thro
  • Dirac project - No mention of OGG media files or Theora video.

    Theora project (OGG video) - A couple passing references to Dirac, one in relation to the OGG media container and combining OGG vorbis and Dirac.

    The Theora and Dirac projects have similar goals, so even if they both go it alone I would think that discussions would spur new ideas in both. Wouldn't it be a good idea for these folks to talk together -- if only so that Dirac files are by default packaged in OGG media containers?
    • How about joining their mailing lists and adding your 5c? I'm sure that they would be open to suggestions. Note, that at the same time it would make more sense to make it packaging independent and then simply have a package of preference. Until all of the major (what you average user knows about) media players supports the ogg envelope it may prove better to use something like avi, mov or mpeg 4 (I believe it too is an envelope). I would like ogg to be used, but then you need almost universal support for th
  • codec modules? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Doc Ruby (173196) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @11:59AM (#10460332) Homepage Journal
    Codecs are modules that fit into apps. Consistent with the three-tier architecture, they have APIs called by apps, and data access to the streams on which they operate, both of which are fairly generic (and ought to be completely standard). Their cores are different, depending on their transformation, their source/destination data formats, and their transformation technique, as well as metadata produced/consumed.

    New codecs come along infrequently, and are usually too little, too late. There's a lot of duplicated effort across these projects. It seems a better strategy for everyone to share a skeleton that gets populated with codec core "plugins". An easy install mechanism might even let new datatypes deliver the smaller cores for codec'ing on the fly.
  • saw them yesterday (Score:4, Informative)

    by t_allardyce (48447) on Thursday October 07, 2004 @12:14PM (#10460488) Journal
    I saw them at the Linux expo at Olympia yesterday, it looked pretty decent and its still alpha, they said they sometimes get people helping and pointing out bugs, its pretty rockin that they're getting funding considering the direction the BBC is going, definately better than suns java desktop, but damnit they wernt giving away any penguins or anything >:(
  • dirac (Score:2, Informative)

    by xmp_phrack (795665)
    It's named after a Paul Dirac, a British scientist who worked on quantum mechanics.
  • I'm a little concerned that the BBC are spending so little resources on this codec. I would really like to see it succeed. Unfortunately I'm not a competent codec hacker :-(

    Given the amount of cash it must take to make TV and radio programs, the expensive equipment, exotic locations, high-paid celebrities etc, surely they can properly fund this project with the change?

    Employing enough hackers to do the whole job themselves can't possibly cost much compared to the other stuff they do. Obviously I am happy

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