IT: Technology, Language, and Culture

Apple Keynote Announcements from QuickTime Live

You can see the keynote in streaming QuickTime for yourself, but I’ll cover the basics. First of all, Apple previewed QuickTime 6 with MPEG 4. That’s the good news. The bad news is that because of some truly idiotic licensing proposals from the MPEG-LA corporation, Apple won’t be releasing QuickTime 6 yet. I’ll get back to the licensing issue in a bit, but I want to mention two other really neat pieces of news.

There’s a new, and still free, version of the Apple QuickTime Streaming Server 4.0. This is a solid open-source, standards-based streaming server, that now has MPEG-4 and MP3 streaming capabilities. Since the server only serves, and doesn’t encode, the new QuickTime Streaming Server 4 does not require a MPEG-4 license and is therefore immediately available. Even I’ve been able to set up a QuickTime Streaming Server, and I’m a medievalist, not a sys admin. The browser-based admin interface is definitely better now, and you can set things up so your users can create “play lists.” What’s that you say, you don’t own a Mac? Then check out the Darwin Streaming Server, the open source version, with builds for Linux, Solaris and Windows NT/2000.

Last, but far from least, Apple announced the free QuickTime Broadcast Server for live video streaming. This has enormous potential–but, since it’s dependant on the MPEG 4 encoding standard, licensing issues are delaying it as well. What’s cool about this, is that not only is it free, it’s Apple elegant, Mac simple. You need QuickTime 6, Mac OS X (v10.1 and later), and streaming server technology–Mac OS X Server, QuickTime Streaming Server or compatible servers.

Here’s, roughly, how it works. You get a Firewire capable digital video camera, and film your class, or event–live. You connect your camera, via Firewire, to a Mac running OS X 10.1 or later, and the free Broadcast server software, and the free QuickTime Streaming software–users need the free QuickTime 6 software, once it’s released, to log on to your server. That’s the lowend version; you can scale it to suit–camera, to a Mac running the Broadcast server, to include a separate QuickTime Streaming server instead of running it and Broadcast on the same server, or several streaming servers. At the demo, Apple used an Airport wireless base station to connect the Broadcast Mac to the Streaming server.There’s a lot of untapped potential here for foreign language instruction–potential for doing more than ripping the CDs that came with the textbook.

The licensing issues have to be solved first. Apple is fine with paying royalties to MPEGLA for the codec, the part that lets content providers–like educators–compress video into MPGEG 4. MPEGLA wants .25 cents per decoder, and another .25 cents per encoder, per year, with a one million cap. That’s fine, by Apple, and they’re quite willing to pay that so users can use QuickTime Pro to encode and play MPEG 4 files.

The problem is that MPEGLA wants content providers, “publishers” or hosts–to pay content royalties of .02 cents an hour for a content host (that means anyone with MPEG 4 content on a web site, streaming server or other “hosting” system), and another .02 cents per hour for a content replicator. That’s absurd, really absurd. It’s a Microsoft licensing approach–a penny here and there, 24 hours a day, to generate millions without actually providing goods or services. And of course, for education, that cost would almost certainly end up having to be passed to students–so MPEG 4 would, quite possibly, not be used, despite its enormous potential for high quality content delivery. If you think this is as daft as I do, you can email a polite protest to licensing@mpegla.com.