Photo Finish: OSTA Announces New Profiles, Hardware Support for MPV
Posted Mar 26, 2004

In February 2002, the Optical Storage Technology Association (OSTA) unveiled its MultiPhotoVideo (MPV) specification, which they hoped would one day standardize the way in which digital media files were stored and shared. Nearly two years later to the day, OSTA proudly announced that industry-leading digital camera manufacturers and imaging software companies, including HP, Nikon, Olympus, Samsung, and Software Architects, have officially affirmed their support for the spec and plan on implementing MPV in their products.

MPV provides the standards for structuring metadata that can store information relative to how a media file was created—such as whether a photo was a panoramic or standard-ratio shot. This spec is designed to be the answer for faster, more robust playback of consumers' digital media collections on DVD players, digital video recorders, and PC software. "The intent of MPV is to link the authoring devices with the playback or consumption devices," says Felix Nemirovsky, chair of OSTA's MultiRead Committee and CEO of Chuba Consulting, a company that provides new product development consulting for high-tech firms. "It is the glue that holds the experience that you had while taking the picture to the experience you have when you consume it."

HP has adopted the MPV specification for use in their Image Zone imaging and printing software, which is bundled with most HP Pavilion PCs and notebooks as well as their imaging and printing products. Nikon Corporation will incorporate MPV into its latest photo management software release, dubbed PictureProject. On the hardware side of the digital camera fence, Olympus has developed a prototype digital camera that includes MPV. The company also chairs the OSTA specification group that is defining the use of MPV on portable flash storage cards.

While the XML that MPV is based on is ubiquitous, MPV isn't a one-size-fits-all specification; it's broken down by how you would use it. "The format consists of the core spec, which is like an engine that can be used in many different directions," says Nemirovsky. "We add a profile to the engine to do different things," he explains, meaning that the MPV spec can be shaped to fill whatever needs are demanded of it.

"The key purpose of OSTA is to promote growth in a particular area, not make a profit," says Nemirovsky. "We want to let companies bring their understanding to us, and we can see if we can roll MPV to meet their needs." The camera and imaging industry has realized the value of "structure without boundaries," as Nemirovsky puts it. "The camera field, with all the features that they're introducing, is starving for some kind of structure."

Around the same time that the aforementioned digital camera manufacturers announced their support, OSTA released a handful of new profiles. The profiles that have been ratified are the basic, presentation, and music. The basic is the minimal spec; all usage of MPV should have this built in. The presentation profile goes into more detail, helping to ease the presentation of collections of digital media files. The music profile allows metadata to describe information about songs like album, genre, etc.

When asked about the possibility of a video profile, Nemirovsky demurred, resisting such a broad classification. "There are different applications for video. To say that their consumption or structure is the same is utterly false." This fact cuts right to the heart of how MPV will evolve. "Once the concept of MPV is understood, companies with different applications will know best how to implement them," he concludes.

The missing piece of the MPV puzzle has been the lack of DVD players with the specification built in. While the MPV-formatted data should still work on non-MPV DVD players—assuming the player can natively access the files—consumers won't be able to make use of the available metadata. Recently, Samsung has stepped forward to announce its commitment to use MPV technology. At PMA, Samsung teamed with Olympus to demonstrate the MPV experience through the playback of content from an MPV-enabled digital camera on an MPV-enabled DVD player.

The stars seem to be aligning for universal MPV, but a potentially dark cloud hovers on the horizon in the form of a rival format known as HighMAT, which is backed by Microsoft and Panasonic. "From OSTA's point of view, we were addressing a need in the marketplace. What Microsoft does is address a need of their OS," states Nemirovsky. And in his opinion, this difference could be HighMAT's downfall, as Microsoft pushes for a royalty-based (if you want to use it with non-Microsoft products), PC-centric model.

Nemirovsky, and OSTA as a whole, have been satisfied with MPV's progress these last two years. Currently, there are numerous profiles being developed by various companies and organizations. "We at OSTA are sifting through them to make sure that they're heading in the right direction," says Nemirovsky. Konica Minolta has been providing leadership on the portable storage profile, which will allow for the storage and update of photo and video files on CD, DVD, and portable storage media, including memory cards and hard disk drives. Another vital profile in the works, the CE Playlist, comes from Software Architects, Inc., which is developing the validation test tools and software developer kit that will make it easy for manufacturers to create compliant products and ensure reliable playback on MPV-enabled products.