ISO plumps for Apple's QuickTime as universal digital media format

Apple Computer's QuickTime technology has received a huge boost with the news that a proposal to develop a unified digital media storage format based on the QuickTime file format has been adopted by the International Standards Organisation (ISO). The joint proposal backing QuickTime was submitted by Apple, IBM, Netscape, Oracle, Silicon Graphics, and Sun Microsystems, who say they will now work with other companies and industry groups to develop the ISO's next Moving Picture Expert Group (MPEG) specification. Absent from their press conference was Microsoft, which had proposed its Active Streaming Format (ASF) - which is not supported by any commercially available product - as the MPEG-4 file format.

Apple Computer's QuickTime technology has received a huge boost with the news that a proposal to develop a unified digital media storage format based on the QuickTime file format has been adopted by the International Standards Organisation (ISO).

The joint proposal backing QuickTime was submitted by Apple, IBM, Netscape, Oracle, Silicon Graphics, and Sun Microsystems, who say they will now work with other companies and industry groups to develop the ISO's next Moving Picture Expert Group (MPEG) specification. The standards body mandates that a finalised draft of the file format be ready by December 1998. The draft then will go through a year of comments for finalisation around the end of 1999.

QuickTime enables a common MPEG-4 file format for digital media supporting real-time video and audio streaming that then can be sent over the Internet and corporate and broadcast networks into homes, the vendors say. Absent from the list of vendors and a Wednesday press conference was Microsoft, which had proposed its Active Streaming Format (ASF) as the MPEG-4 file format. The vendors said QuickTime's compatibility with a broad base of existing formats was attractive to the MPEG committee.

"With QuickTime, you can incorporate media which is stored in other formats, such as AVI and ASF," said Peter Hoddie, Senior QuickTime Architect at Apple. "By choosing QuickTime, existing content spaces could be transitioned to MPEG-4. The committee broadened the choices instead of narrowing them."

Jon Kannegaard, vice president of software products for Sun's JavaSoft division, said Apple was being too modest about its format. "The QuickTime file format is the de facto industry standard, and is the most widely adopted standard," Kannegaard said. Oracle participated in both the ASF and QuickTime groups, and said this announcement was not a case of vendors teaming up against Microsoft.

"If ASF had been accepted, we would be happy to be behind that standard. It's really going for the best technical standard," said Mark Porter, vice president of Media Server Development at Oracle. "As Microsoft participates in this forum, if there are features which are the best of breed from ASF, I'm sure those will be incorporated."

Porter noted that, to date, no products have come to market that support ASF. The vendors noted that at their first ad hoc meeting, they did incorporate Microsoft's request for Global Unique Identifiers (GUIDs) as part of the file format. GUIDs enable vendors to create extensions to the file format independent of the standards body without affecting the file format.

This standard does not compete with other MPEG standards, which are used for entertainment-quality video and audio and also is the format used for DVD and digital video broadcasting.

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