The technical design for a new video compression system based on the MPEG-4 standard that promises better quality digital video was agreed at a meeting in Japan last week, said the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

Members of a joint video team of the ITU, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) agreed on the technical base for the system, which the ITU has named H.264/AVC and the ISO/IEC has named 14496-10/MPEG-4 AVC.

The system promises to significantly reduce the amount of bandwidth required to send a video image, and should mean better quality video from a range of technologies such as digital satellite broadcasts, digitally stored video or Internet streaming. With the Internet in mind, the system has been designed to cope with packet and data loss better than previous standards, such as the widely used H.262/MPEG-2 or H.263 formats.

It is already attracting the attention of the video and broadcasting industry. The system was the subject of a review in the current edition of the Technical Review of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), a Europe-wide group that ties together most of the continent's major broadcasters.

The EBU Technical Review reported bit-rate savings of 64 per cent compared to an video stream encoded with MPEG-2 and savings of around 39 per cent compared to other MPEG-4 based streams. The bit-rate for a standard television signal will be reduced by a factor of more than two using the technology, the article said.

With the basic technical design agreed, the joint team will spend the next three months working on final preparation of the detailed text of the standard before its expected publishing in March 2003.