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Saturday, February 03, 2007

New M3W multimedia programming interface for MPEG-4

To make it easier to develop multimedia applications, the MPEG standards group has developed a new applications programming interface (API) that could be used middleware - the software that sits between the video chip and the applications.

It's a good idea and definitely useful but commercial reality means it may struggle.

M3W (ISO/IEC 23004 MPEG-E) is the standardization of an Application Programming Interface (API) for Multimedia Middleware (M3W) allowing application software to execute multimedia functions with a minimum knowledge of the inner workings of the multimedia middleware.
It is aimed at M3W embedded devices in entertainment, mobile communications,broadcast and IP set top boxes and gaming systems.
It supports extra features like Fault Tolerance, Resource and Terminal management. These enable run-time control, updating, upgrading and/or extension of the middleware, giving it much more flexibility and upgradeability. It has a generic infrastructure that is easily tailored and open, with an extendible (both for the functional and non-functional parts) architecture and component model.
M3W consists of eight parts.
Architecture, Multimedia API, Component Model and Resource and Quality Management have all reached the final stage of development, and the next three parts (Component Download, Fault Management and Integrity Management) will reach the final stage at the 80th MPEG meeting in April. In addition, reference software, which will be made available to support the developed technologies, will be Part 8.

The problem is that pretty much all the middleware being used is proprietary, because that is supported and developed. M3W could be used as the basis for an Open Source solution, but I think operators would be reluctant to use open source for this mission-critical part of the system. It is less likely that existing middleware vendors will use it, as they have a lot of legacy software and less incentive to open up their systems.

What is more likely is we will see new software vendors launching middleware based on M3W because it is so much easier to use and should be less expensive than the existing proprietary software. This will then encourage an ecosystem of applications to grow (and then the other vendors will jump on the bandwagon - think Linux in the embedded space), but unless there is a concerted effort to 'pump prime' the ecosystem and give it a boost, this will unfortunately to take several years.

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