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Understanding the History of MPEG – A Book by Co-Founder Leonardo Chiariglione

Understanding the History of MPEG – A Book by Co-Founder Leonardo Chiariglione

If you’ve ever listened to a .mp3 file or watched a video on a smartphone (and I bet you have), then you owe that to Italian engineer Leonardo Chiariglione. Co-founder of the Moving Pictures Experts Group (MPEG), Leonardo devoted most of his life to the democratization of digital media. He recently published a book about the history of MPEG and its impact on our lives.

For those who don’t know, MPEG was an enormous collective effort to create international agreed standards for media coding. These include most of the compression methods for audio and video still available today.

MPEG: Moving Pictures Experts Group
MPEG: Moving Pictures Experts Group. Source: chiariglione.org

Thousands of talented people worked at MPEG over the last 30 years, developing the technology we currently use on a daily basis.

Unfortunately, the MPEG experience came to an end in June 2020. One year later, its co-founder and chairman Leonardo Chiariglione published a book titled “Even the stars die: The history of MPEG and how it made digital media happen”.

Leonardo Chiariglione: a man with a mission

Chiariglione obtained his PhD in Electrical Communications at the University of Tokyo in 1973.

The world of media was very different back then. Standards were mainly designed at a national level. Thus, for example, a TV program developed in one country couldn’t go on air in a different one. In a nutshell, national TV standards were limiting communication by design.

Chiariglione couldn’t accept this fact. He felt the need to start an organization that could break boundaries and make digital media accessible on a larger scale.

Leonardo Chiariglione
Italian engineer Leonardo Chiariglione, co-founder of the MPEG group. Source: chiariglione.org

Rise and fall of MPEG

That’s why he co-founded MPEG in 1988. Standardizing media coding was the main goal of this organization. Indeed, that process would have allowed companies to operate in a global, standardized market and consumers to communicate more seamlessly.

As a result, some of the main audio and video coding standards were born. Just to name a few, the popular AVC and HEVC codecs (that can be found in many cameras nowadays) were developed by MPEG.

However, after operating successfully for over 30 years, not all the players involved still shared the values upon which the organization was built. This led Leonardo Chiariglione to declare the project dead in June 2020. Rest in peace, MPEG.

MPAI: Artificial intelligence for the future of media coding

The end of MPEG didn’t leave Chiariglione defeated. In fact, a few months after MPEG was declared dead, he moved on and founded a new organization: MPAI. The acronym stands for Moving Picture, Audio and Data Coding by Artificial Intelligence.

The goal remains the same: making media coding more efficient. While MPEG was based on prior knowledge, MPAI is based on knowledge acquired by a machine through experience.

According to Leonardo Chiariglione, coding methods based on AI will provide better results for the video compression algorithms of the future.

MPAI: Moving Picture, Audio and Data Coding by Artificial Intelligence.
MPAI: Moving Picture, Audio and Data Coding by Artificial Intelligence. Source: chiariglione.org

The idea behind the book

“Even the stars die” is anything but a scientific paper. According to its author, this book is about the future of our society. If you want to understand how digital media will evolve in the next few years, this is a must-read.

Leonardo Chiariglione's Book Cover
Even the stars die: The history of MPEG and how it made digital media happen. Source: chiariglione.org

Structured in six sections, the book describes the world of media before MPEG, recounts the birth, development and death of the organization and describes the future of media coding.

The book is now available for purchase on Amazon.
Featured image credit: photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Link: Chiariglione.org

Are curious to know more about the past and future of video compression? Let us know in the comments below!

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