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LinuxWorld The BBC demoed an early version of an open source codec it hopes will give proprietary video technology a serious run for its money at the LinuxWorld exhibition today.

Dirac, currently alpha software, can deliver equivalent results using only 50 per cent of the bandwidth needed for video files encoded using the MPEG-2 format, according to its developers in the BBC's research and development division. The codec is aimed at a wide range of applications including streaming media and storage of video content.

Lead developer Dr. Thomas Davies said that the BBC wants to collaborate with the open source community and academics in the further development of the technology. Dirac is a general purpose video codec which uses wavelets, motion compensation and arithmetic coding techniques to achieve what Davies described as the most advanced open source codec ever developed.

Davies said the codec could live on anything from mobile phones to high-definition TVs but not before a lot of further work is completed. For one thing, Dirac doesn't currently work in real-time. Davies also reckons that the compression offered by the technology could be further optimised. The BBC is working on integrating the technology with its other systems, but the corporation would welcome more help in developing Dirac.

The technology - first conceived more than three years ago - is scheduled to go into beta within the next 12 to 15 months. By that point the BBC hopes the technology will be integrated within a number of video players such as windows Media Player and QuickTime. Dirac is being released under the Mozilla Public License 1.1. Davies said the BBC had taken care to make sure the technology could be taken up by the community without entangling developers in patent disputes. Dirac is far from the BBC's first foray into open source development work. Other current open source projects include development of the Material eXchange Format (MXF), a mechanism of exchanging multimedia data. ®

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