New video format cuts storage needs in half

A researcher from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, working with an international team of other researchers, has found that a new video compression standard can cut file storage requirements by half compared to the venerable MPEG standard used by most agencies.

The team compared MPEG-2 with the standard designed to replace it, AVC/H.264.

'You can cut the bit rate in half and keep the quality the same relative to MPEG-2, according to our tests,' said Charles Fenimore, the NIST researcher who studied the video compressor/decompressor algorithm, or codec for short. 'It provides a 50 percent gain in compression efficiency.'

Completed in May 2003, the new standard was developed by the International Telecommunication Union and the Moving Picture Experts Group in response to the increasingly wide range of digital video transmission technologies available. It can be used in both mobile devices with very low bit rates and for delivering video to next-generation high-definition television sets.

The group's paper, 'Subjective Quality Assessment of the Emerging
AVC/H.264 Video Coding Standard,' reported that AVC/H.264 has the same quality as MPEG-2 in most cases, with approximately half the bit rate.

'The tests showed a noticeable superiority of AVC/H.264 compared to state-of-the-art MPEG-2 video encoders in almost all test cases,' the report summarized. The paper was presented at the International Broadcast Conference in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, last week.

In addition to Fenimore'the Motion Image Quality project leader for NIST's Digital Media Group'the MPEG working group included researchers from the Italian nonprofit scientific research organization Fondazione Ugo Bordoni of Rome, the Munich University of Technology of Germany and NTT DoCoMo Inc. of Toyko. Each organization donated its researchers' time for the project.

At least some government organizations have already evaluated the standard, such as the interagency Motion Imagery Standards Board (, a working group to promote visual imagery system interoperability among the Defense Department, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and other agencies. The group advises agencies to look at the AVC/H.264-based equipment as products start to enter the market.

Greater compression efficiency translates into more video that can be squeezed onto storage platforms, especially when it is used with new optical disk storage technologies such as Blu-Ray, a higher-density optical disk format, developed by an industry-led coalition, to replace DVDs.

'If you cut the bit rate in half and triple the capacity of the disk you have six times the storage,' Fenimore said, adding that NIST does not endorse any specific standards.

An abstract of the report is available here. The full report can be downloaded here.

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.


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