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World wide video

How can high-quality videos be made available everywhere? To answer this question, three Berlin-based researchers developed a video coding format that set the international standard.

You cannot possibly watch technology developing, it’s happening so fast. But that’s exactly what the engineers Thomas Wiegand, Detlev Marpe, and Heiko Schwarz were interested in: watching. At the beginning of the millennium, the researchers from the Technical University (TU) Berlin, the Fraunhofer Institute for Telecommunications / Heinrich Hertz Institute (HHI), and Berlin University of Applied Sciences (HTW) were motivated by the question: How can videos be edited so that they are easy to handle and can be played back anywhere? The question was highly topical: even then, more and more information was starting to be transmitted via moving images. But films need a lot of storage space, and large files are difficult to send over the internet. So the amount of data had to be reduced – naturally in a way that allowed the images to retain their quality.

Efficient coding – with the H.264/AVC standard

The three engineers developed a system to solve this problem: the H.264/AVC standard. This largely built on its predecessors, the standards MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, and the H.261 family. Based on a certain algorithm, the system compresses the data in such a way that its volume shrinks considerably, without noticeably diminishing the quality of the moving images. This is done with the help of a special coding method for audio and video signals. The standard was adopted in 2003 and has already been used in more than one billion devices worldwide – including Blu-ray players, HD and 3D TVs, internet TV stations, and systems for video conferencing, telemedicine, e-learning, and security technology. A large proportion of the bits on the internet are in the H.264/AVC format and many of the processes used in these are protected by patents. With their work, the three Berlin researchers have set a standard in the truest sense of the word – and were nominated for the 2012 German Future Prize, among other awards.

(Header: REDPIXEL – AdobeStock)

Place of invention

Fraunhofer Institut für Nachrichtentechnik – Heinrich Hertz Institut HHI, Technische Universität, Cisco Einsteinufer 37, 10587 Berlin