March 2003|It's been some 20 years now since the introduction of the compact disc ushered in the era of media as data. And while still images and video have lagged a bit behind audio, the overall trend toward digitization has proven consistent and irresistible. Consumer electronics (CE) devices such as digital cameras, DV camcorders, and DVD players are all part of the picture, evidence that consumers are eager to partake of the benefits promised by digital media. And because bits have become the common language, the personal computer readily serves as a bridge between capture and presentation. Armed with editing and authoring software, photo-ready printers, and recordable/rewritable CD and DVD drives, even non-professionals now have unprecedented control over the manipulation and presentation of content.
There is a lot of overlap between the two fields—consumer electronics and computing—that are converging in this digital media phenomenon. Even so, the two industries sometimes operate as if they are in different worlds, and progress has been slow in implementing universal standards that can facilitate a smooth user experience. One big step forward in recent years was settling on FireWire (aka IEEE 1394 or iLink) and USB as de facto standard interfaces for data transfer. But raw media file interchange is only part of what's required for seamless interaction between CE devices and computers. What's been missing is a standardized approach to the creation, storage, transfer, and display of metadata, information about the "presentation data" that may be passed along with it through each stage from capture to presentation.
Keeping track of contents
The lack of an overarching metadata standard hasn't been much of a problem for highly structured formats such as DVD-Video or CD-Audio, where specifications mandate the inclusion of information about the contents. But with more open-ended formats such as DVD-ROM or CD-ROM on recordable or rewritable media, a user can store pretty much any kind of digital file. Even if playback of those files is supported by a given CE player, it can be challenging for users to figure out what's on the disc when they want to play it back.
One common use for CD-Rs, for instance, is to load them up with MP3 music files transferred on a PC. Playback of such files is now supported by many models of set-top CD and DVD players. But Pieter van Zee, senior architect with the Digital Imaging Group at Hewlett-Packard in Palo Alto, California, points out that unlike the 10 or 20 songs typically found on a normal CD-Audio disc, a CD-R may fit upwards of a hundred MP3 files. He also notes that with the growth of digital cameras and retail services that offer photo discs, JPEG files on disc are also becoming widely available, and set-top player support for additional formats like JPEG is growing.
"Unlike CD-Audio, Video CD, DVD-Video, and other CE-focused disc formats," van Zee says, "there isn't a widely adopted standard for how to organize, access, and play MP3 and JPEG content on a data disc. This means that CE players cannot provide a great user experience that starts up quickly when the disc is inserted and provides user-friendly navigation and playlists. This inhibits widespread use and growth of market demand." Perry Solomon, president and CEO of Alera Technologies in Van Nuys, California, a vendor of recordable/ rewritable drive solutions for CD and DVD, agrees that the lack of a metadata standard is a big problem. "As more and more consumers are storing their memories digitally," he says, "navigating through the collections of mixed digital file types like music, photos, and videos on a CE device such as a DVD player becomes a tedious and difficult task."
OSTA'S LIST OF BASIC REQUIREMENTS
- Implement one firmware to handle content from any DSC or CD/DVD maker
- Disc-based content must interoperate broadly
- Rapid startup on disc/memory card insertion
- Fast performance for displaying images
- Organize content on CD and DVD
- Playback of stills and video with background music
- Avoid format conversions where possible
- Playback on installed base of PCs
- Withstand filename and location changes