The Streaming Media West conference opens in Los Angeles later today. MPEG-4 will be high on the agenda as major streaming media companies begin to announce their support for the standard.

Apple has already made its plans to support MPEG-4 clear – QuickTime 6, the next version of its multimedia standard, will support it. The release of QuickTime 6 has been delayed as Apple attempts to renegotiate the licensing deal for use of the technology. MPEG-4 uses QuickTime at its core – it’s the file-format for the standard.

MPEG-4 offers better-quality images at lower bit-rates and bandwidths than existing solutions. Content providers need only encode once – and any standards-based multimedia browser can view MPEG-4 content.

Real launches developer site RealNetworks this morning confirmed its plans to adopt MPEG-4 in its multimedia solutions. The company will today launch a commercial MPEG-4 interoperability site, powered by the company’s RealSystem servers. This site has been developed to let MPEG-4 encoder and player developers and suppliers verify their early prototypes and products (using RealSystem).

The company has also joined the MPEG-4 Industry Forum, the group responsible for advancing the standard. It is submitting components of its forthcoming RealVideo 9 technology for consideration by the standards team.

Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide product marketing, Phil Schiller, welcomed Real’s adoption of MPEG-4, saying: “Apple is excited that RealNetworks has joined the MPEG-4 Industry Forum and will work to help further the adoption of the MPEG-4 open-standard.

“With streaming-media leaders like Apple and RealNetworks working together to provide true interoperability with MPEG-4, customers and content providers will be the winners.”

RealNetworks is also submitting several components of RealVideo 9 for consideration in future versions of MPEG-4. These include refinements to its systems and methods for intracoding video-data, which would increase the efficiency of keyframe encoding, and provide content-owners and the end-user with higher-quality video at lower bit-rates.

Cross-platform standard In related MPEG-4 news, Envivio today introduced its EnvivioTV player for Windows Media Player, which brings MPEG-4 support to Microsoft’s multimedia product.

Envivio has similar products available for QuickTime and RealOne. The announcement means that MPEG-4 support is now available within all three major multimedia standards.

Julien Signes, president of Envivio, declared: “Before, companies had to encode and transform their content to multiple streaming-formats as well as separate broadcast formats to reach all computer and TV users. By utilizing MPEG-4, companies can now encode their content once, stream from one server, and know that the end-user will get the same-quality presentation on virtually any computer in the world – whatever media-player their users may want to use.”

The potential of the standard is huge – it promises almost DV-quality online, and interactive content at lower bandwidths than ever before. Interviewed by Macworld UK, Apple’s QuickTime product marketing director, Frank Casanova, explained: “MPEG-4 video is amazing, it’s high-quality, it’s scaleable; it just really looks better than anything we’ve seen.”