The Rodney Dangerfield of Digital Video: MovieCD's Near-Broadcast-Quality Video Finally Gets Some Respect

Article excerpt

I have been promising for quite a time to write about MovieCD, which is the trademark name of a CD-ROM product line that features the best digital video this side of DVD. I saw it for the first time almost two years ago when I received a sample disc of the beta version from Sirius Publishing, Inc. At that time, I tested it on a 90 MHz Pentium, and I could hardly believe my eyes.

I like to show fancy new information technology products to students and to participants of my workshops, but the sample was not up to a public showing. Not because of the quality, but because the sample was an excerpt from the Joe Eszterhas movie Showgirls, which earned an NC-17 rating. Technically, it was superb, but it was not the ideal demo material, and MovieCD was not an officially released product available on the market.

All this happened at a time when Philips and Sony were arm wrestling with Toshiba and Time-Warner over specifications for theater-quality digital video. I kept waiting for the launch of MovieCD, but it did not happen overnight. When it was finally released commercially earlier this year, I was involved in researching and writing about other multimedia developments,'so I kept postponing this piece.

To my surprise, others apparently did so as well. While the technology magazines kept churning out zillions of articles, reviews, and news announcements about video-encoding-and-decoding software, none gave MovieCD the publicity and respect thin' it deserved. So now, on the occasion of Sirius Publishing, Inc.'s release--last September--of an even better version of the MovieCD playback software, I'll now try to make up for this neglect.

Video Quality and Quality Video

The press and the industry practically ignored the compression technology that yields near-broadcast-quality video. The underlying technology was developed by the Motion Pixels Company and licensed to Sirius Publishing, Inc., a company that certainly knows how to reach consumers. It had one of the most successful marketing ideas for selling CD-ROMs in volume. I was not crazy about its 5-in-1 CD-ROM marketing idea (simply because too many bad titles were sold with, at best, one good title), but it worked.

Still, Sirius could not kindle the same enthusiasm for MovieCD. I cannot even speculate why. The timing was perfect. Multimedia CD-ROM publishers were struggling with putting videos in their games, encyclopedias, and educational titles. Even in the best encyclopedias, the quality of the video clips was (and still is) pathetic: The video frames are too small, the frame rates are too slow, and the video clips are too short and too few.

MovieCD had scalable frames including full-size screen, and, as near as I could judge by the naked eye, full-motion video--even in full-screen mode. No one else even dreamed about software-only, full-screen, full-motion video. Even MPEG-1 was limited to quarter screen.

There was no blockiness when you switched to full screen (yes, there was some time delay), nor was there ghosting,

nor artifacts, nor snowing in any screen size. Color fidelity was impeccable. Audio and video were as tightly synchronized as the best Argentine tango dancers. Still, Sirius did not get the applause, let alone the licensing contracts, that I would have bet the farm on.

Look Ma, No Hardware Decoder

The most interesting aspect of this video compression wizardry is that it is done without hardware assistance, both in the compression and in the decompression phase. I despise the false claims of most infomercials, and I don't want to sound like one, but Motion Pixels' technology delivers what it promises. It is not like those miracle gadgets that purport to make you slim, happy, attractive, or healthy. …