Apple released the long-awaited QuickTime 6 yesterday.

The application is available for download from the company.

With MPEG-4 support, QuickTime 6 offers streaming-media skip protection, an updated user interface, a new DVC Pro PAL video codec, Macromedia Flash 5 support, JPEG 2000 support, improved AppleScript support, and new developer APIs.

Licensing The solution was first previewed at the QuickTime Live event last February. At the time, Phil Schiller, Apple's vice president of worldwide marketing, revealed the release woyuld be delayed while the company discussed licensing conditions with MPEG-LA, the MPEG-4 licensing body.

Larry Horn, vice president of licensing at MPEG-LA, told Macworld UK last month: “We expect to issue a licence this summer – certainly before early September. Discussions are going well. I’m confident we are going to come up with something the market finds acceptable.”

Discussing MPEG-4, he predicted the "technology really enabling the convergence the industry has been dreaming about". It's thought the group has adopted a sliding scale of royalty payment, enabling smaller operators to build viable businesses employing the standard before imposing licensing fees. If businesses have under 50,000 subscribers, they do not have to pay. A maximum of $1 million may be payable by larger businesses.

MPEG-4 is an international standard for digital video, created by the group that developed the MPEG-2 standard used in DVD. It offers high-quality, interactive video at low bandwidths. It's also scaleable - so video quality can range from near DVD (MPEG-2) to Internet-streamed video.

Common standard MPEG-4 was developed to meet the industry's need for a common, open standard for digital video. Until now, end users and content providers had to employ a variety of formats, including QuickTime, RealNetworks and Microsoft solutions. The success of MPEG-2, which created the now buoyant DVD industry, showed online broadcasters the advantage of sharing common standards.

The standard appears likely to be adopted by RealNetworks, mobile phone companies and 3G-phone manufacturers. Apple announced its partnership with Ericsson and Sun to deliver just such solutions integrating QuickTime in February.

QuickTime 6 features Instant-On Streaming feature. This eliminates buffering delays and gives users the chance to quickly scrub through content to locate and instantly view specific sections.

The application also supports JPEG 2000, the next-generation JPEG standard that lets users capture still images at higher quality and smaller file sizes than before.

QuickTime 6 also supports Advanced Audio Coding (AAC), developed by Dolby Labs, which offers better-than-MP3 quality music in smaller sized files.

The company has also released QuickTime 6 Broadcaster. Its features include: live encoding with real time preview; the ability to record and hint in real time to the computer’s hard disk for quick video-on-demand posting; support for QuickTime codecs and AppleScript; customizable settings; and "reliable" communication and auto-connection using TCP between Broadcaster and Server.

Mac and Windows versions of QuickTime 6 are available.