LEONARDO CHIARIGLIONE is the group chair and co-founder of the Motion Picture Experts Group (MPEG) video compression standards organisation, standards that, after their inauguration almost 20 years ago, have grown to become the most all-pervasive and popular in the industry.
As we approach the 20 year anniversary of the approval of the MPEG-1 standard, Chiariglione gives The INQUIRER an exclusive interview to tell us why he set it up in the first place, what might have happened without it and his opinions about the state of the industry today.
Founded by Chiariglione and co-founder Hiroshi Yasuda in 1988, MPEG is a working group of motion picture experts recruited by the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO), which is the body that defines information technology standards among other standards, and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), which is the body that sets consumer electronics standards. MPEG now attracts roughly 350 members at each meeting from various industries, universities and research institutions.
The MPEG standards have grown to be so successful due to their algorithms that compress data to smaller volumes that can be easily and more quickly transmitted and then decompressed. Each MPEG compression algorithm achieves its high compression ratio by storing only the changes from one frame to another, instead of each entire frame. Though some data is lost through this process, the good thing about the MPEG compression process is that it's generally imperceptible to the human eye.
"MPEG came out of my idea at that time that the compression tech for audio and video was quite mature," said Chiariglione. He also made it clear that the group was formed to set free the limited bandwidth channels for audio and video content, creating a single compression scheme that doesn't depend on the channel. "This is the great value of what MPEG did and one of the reasons for its success," he said.
Talking about the challenges he faced while setting up MPEG, Chiariglione said the most difficult one was getting public authorities and governments on board to accept it.
"We had plenty of technical people who were enthusiastic about their work and had vision but you have to sell this vision to the industry and to public authorities," he said. "That was the really difficult side of the story."
"Everybody was conscious that it was a unique opportunity - we had the right technical people on board and I believe the right vision - but when you start this kind of venture you are given just one chance to do it right, and if you do it wrong you don't get a second," he said.