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Geeks Behind MPEG Digital Video Win Tech Emmy

Dr. Thomas Schierl of the Fraunhofer Institute, which helped develop MPEG-2. Credit: Fraunhofer Institute

(Image credit: Dr. Thomas Schierl of the Fraunhofer Institute, which helped develop MPEG-2. Credit: Fraunhofer Institute)

If you've ever watched a film on DVD or Blu-ray, or even a TV show on cable, you owe it to the geeks behind the technology that allows video to be streamed as data. The National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences decided it owed these men and women as well, granting them an Emmy. 

That team, known as the Motion Picture Expert Group (MPEG), received a technology and engineering Emmy in recognition for its role in the development of the MPEG-2 codec. This technology is used to compress video down to a more manageable size so it can be broadcast over the air, streamed via cable or satellite service, or packed onto a DVD or Blu-ray disc. Dr. Thomas Schierl and his team from the Fraunhofer Heinrich Hertz Institute, a research institute that contributed to the codec as part of the MPEG trade organization, was one of the recipients of the award.

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In some respects, the award recognizes history, rather than the latest technology. The MPEG team has since developed a codec called MPEG-4, aka H.264, that is twice as efficient as MPEG-2. It's already used in streaming video services such as Netflix Instant. And MPEG has just polished off a codec called HEVC (high efficiency video coding, or H.265) that achieves a further efficiency gain (two times that of MPEG-4) and looks poised to become the standard for emerging 4K video delivery.

A codec, an abbreviation of "coder-decoder," is software that uses an algorithm to systematically compress raw video data into a compact form fit for broadcasting or streaming. At the receiving end, the same codec in your TV, computer or disc player uncompresses the data to display the video on your screen. The development of the MPEG-2 codec helped transition the video and entertainment industry from the old days of the analog VHS cassettes and broadcast TV to the digital data of cable, satellite, DVD, Blu-ray and online video. 

MPEG is a trade organization whose mission includes working on standards and formats for video. The same group created the .MP3 audio format that (for better or worse) completely remade the music industry.

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  • rad666
    Sorry to be tech nazi, but it's "ENcoder-decoder" not "coder-decoder".
  • PhilFrisbie
    Sorry rad666, but you are the one who is incorrect: CODEC is short for COder-DECoder. That term dates way back (I have been programing since 1978 and it was in use then), but you are correct that we now refer to the two steps as encoding and decoding.
  • smeghead4269
    Sorry to be tech nazi...
    Are you?