Will Australian digital TV switch to MPEG4?

Last night I received a telephone call from a reader who wanted to know if Australia would be switching over to MPEG4 for its digital TV broadcasts. At the moment we are using MPEG2, the same codec used for DVD.

The reason he was wondering was because one store was touting the ability of certain digital TV products that it sells to decode MPEG4-encoded digital TV broadcasts.

It struck me as unlikely that Australian DTV would switch over to MPEG4 since this would render a sizable proportion — in fact, the overwhelming majority — of current digital TV equipment obsolete and, therefore, useless. Neither the Australian government nor the TV broadcasters would have much of an interest in that.

I am using MPEG4 to mean Part 10 of the MPEG4 specification, which provides for the ‘Advanced Video Coding’ codec (AVC), also known as H.264. There are other codecs available under the broad MPEG4 specification.

What MPEG4 has going for it is higher compression efficiency. However this will not yield enormous bandwidth savings compared to MPEG2. It could provide slightly improved quality for similar bandwidth. But I doubt that any stakeholders would consider this sufficient benefit to justify the problems it would cause.

To confirm this, earlier today I spoke to Tim O’Keefe from the Australian Digital Suppliers Industry Forum (ADSIF). His body is aware of no moves at all on this front, not the slightest suggestion.

So, should you look for MPEG4 AVC decoding ability in your digital TV receiver? If it is network capable, then yes. It might come in useful for displaying Internet-sourced material. But for simple TV viewing, whether in standard or high definition, there is no need or advantage in having this capability available, unless you are planning to move to Europe and taking your TV or whatever with you. Europe may indeed be introducing MPEG4-based digital TV.

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