Twenty-nine new companies have successfully tested their devices for the MPEG-4 standard, the MPEG-4 Industry Forum (M4IF) announced yesterday.

It’s a sign of the gathering momentum for MPEG-4. The vendors now include: Koninklijke Philips Electronics NV, Samsung, Apple and IBM. All have successfully concluded a third round of interoperability testing.

Content encoded on a product from one vendor was played using a decoder from another.

“This is the first time that M4IF has gone public since the testing started – and we have now reached a benchmark,” said an M4IF spokesman. “We’ve seen tremendous growth in the list of companies testing interoperability. Four vendors decided to get on-board in the last two days, and the number of people applying to be on the list is growing.”

Going live The next step in testing will be live streaming of content, the spokesman said. Additionally, the M4IF is working on a self-certification scheme so vendors can test compliance of their products, he said.

Interoperability is important as the multi-vendor model is what distinguishes MPEG-4 from competing coding technologies. RealNetworks and Microsoft are two of the biggest, said Sebastian Moeritz, chief executive of Berlin-based Dicas Digital Image Coding, maker of video-coding technology, and a member of the M4IF.

“MPEG-4 offers something that RealNetworks and Microsoft don’t: choice. If you want video coding technology from Microsoft, then Microsoft is your vendor. With MPEG-4, there’s a choice of multiple vendors,” he said.

I want my Web TV MPEG-4, the successor to MPEG-2, will first be used on the Internet. It promises a much better picture at lower bit-rates than is common today. MPEG-4 expected to be used in many devices, including TV set-top boxes and mobile phones.

Moeritz expects to see MPEG-4 in use later this year, or early next year.

“Two years ago, people were asking what MPEG-4 is. This year, we see a concrete demand for MPEG-4 products. Whether it will be 2002 or the beginning of 2003 before it takes off remains to be seen, but MPEG-4 will be introduced within the next 12 months,” he said.

One issue holding back broad online use of MPEG-4 today is licensing. Vendors, Apple being the most vocal, have protested against the licensing scheme suggested by patent holders. M4IF, however, is positive that the issue will be resolved. Apple is also a member of the M4IF.