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Preface

Preface

The last decade has shown the quick growth of multimedia applications and services, with audiovisual information playing an increasingly important role. Today's existence of tens of millions of digital audiovisual content users and consumers is tightly linked to the maturity of such technological areas as video and audio compression and digital electronics and to the timely availability of appropriate audiovisual coding standards. These standards allow the industry to make major investments with confidence in new products and applications and users to experience easy consumption and exchange of content.

In this environment, the Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG) is playing an important role, thanks to the standards it has been developing. After developing the MPEG-1 and MPEG-2 standards, which are omnipresent in diverse technological areas and markets (such as digital television, video recording, audio broadcasting, and audio players and recorders), MPEG decided to follow a more challenging approach, moving away from the traditional representation models by adopting a new model based on the explicit representation of objects in a scene. The new object-based audiovisual representation model is much more powerful in terms of functionalities that it can support. The flexibility of this new model not only opens new doors to existing multimedia applications and services, it also allows the creation of a wide range of new ones, offering novel capabilities to users that extend or redefine their relationship with audiovisual information.

The MPEG-4 standard is the first audiovisual coding standard that benefits from a representation model in which audiovisual information is represented in a sophisticated and powerful way that is close not only to the way we experience “objects” in the real world but also to the way digital content is created. In a way, MPEG-4 is the first digital audiovisual coding standard in which technology goes beyond a simple translation to the digital world of analog to exploit the full power of digital technologies.

With the MPEG-4 standard emerging as the next milestone in audiovisual representation, interested people worldwide are looking for reference texts that, while not providing the level of scrutiny of the standard itself, give a detailed overview of the technology standardized in MPEG-4. Because it takes advantage of many technologies, MPEG-4 may seem a large and complex standard to learn about. However, it has a clear structure that can be understood by interested people.

The purpose of this book is to explain the standard clearly, precisely, and completely without getting lost in the details. Although surely there will be other good references on MPEG-4, we tried hard to make this the reference by creating a book exclusively dedicated to MPEG-4, which addresses all parts of the standard, as timely and complete as possible, written and carefully reviewed by the foremost experts: those who designed and wrote the standard during many years of joint work, frustration, and satisfaction.

To help readers find complementary or more detailed information, the chapters include a large number of references. Some of these references are MPEG documents not readily available to the public. For access to these, first check the MPEG Web page at mpeg.telecomitalialab.com. Some of the most important MPEG documents are available from that site. If that does not work, contact the MPEG “Head of Delegation” from your country (check www.iso.ch/addresse/address.html), who should be able to help you get access to documents that were declared “publicly available” but still may be hard to obtain.

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