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Telecommunications breakthrough

by Carmen To

Dr Oscar Au, director of the multimedia technology research centre and associate professor of electrical and electronic engineering, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
Photo: Edve Leung

By the time of the 2008 Beijing Olympics you won't need to rush home to catch your favourite events on TV. Instead, you'll be able to follow everything live on your mobile phone, thanks to a new Audio Video Coding Standard Technology (AVS) developed by the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST).

The latest advances in video streaming will make it possible for handsets to receive high-resolution pictures from different sources in real time. "AVS is a new, state-of-the-art coding standard for compressing digital audio and video and it has been developed in China," explains Dr Oscar Au, director of HKUST's multimedia technology research centre and associate professor of electrical and electronic engineering.

Rapid changes in the world of mobile communications have meant that, even for messaging services, networks and standards of technology have not always been fully compatible. "The problem was created by phones having different features, which sometimes makes it difficult for the receiver to read messages sent by certain types of handset," Dr Au says.

Realising that this would only create more problems as the applications for each mobile grew, HKUST set up a collaborative research project. Various operators contributed airtime, sim cards and invaluable advice. "We also received a grant from the Innovative Technology Council and donations from the private sector, which amounted to HK$6 million," Dr Au adds.

So far, this has led to the development of new transcoding technology that enables a 2.5G mobile phone to receive and play video content from a high performance 3G model. "This is made possible by converting the format of the compressed video, or by converting video to a series of still images as in a slide show," he notes.

He predicts that these technological breakthroughs will provide enhanced entertainment, information and convenience. They have obvious practical applications for mobile communications, video transmission systems, mobile TV streaming, and video surveillance systems. "Phone users will now be able to watch a movie, check the traffic, or even monitor their home or a factory in China with their handset," he adds.

The aim of the research project was to achieve high quality at a low cost. Industry observers generally confirm that the AVS format provides video quality similar to the more expensive H.264 technology and significantly better than the popular H.263 and MPEG-4 formats commonly used in handsets. "Lower costs are possible because AVS technology does not incur streaming charges from operators and therefore is more affordable for customers," Dr Au says.

As principal investigator of the project, he will continue to develop further improvements and is already considering additional features, such as recording and copying functions. He also has plans to enhance the colour and brightness of the video images received. "This technology will not only provide a low-cost solution for telecommunications operators, but will also bring a new range of benefits for consumers," he concludes.


Taken from Career Times 10 February 2006

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