Double DivX trouble

And they're off! Two competing upgrades to a controversial video-compression format are racing to the finish.

By Damien Cave
September 28, 2000 11:36PM (UTC)
main article image

Forget the Olympics; it's time to let the DivX games begin. Two international, competing teams of programmers have announced that upgrades of the program -- video-compression software that is to movies what the infamous MP3 format is to music -- will soon hit the Web.

Neither side will say exactly when. Project Mayo, which includes "Gej" and other creators of the original DivX, announced this week that DivX Deux, is already complete and being tested. But the group's Web site states that it might be a while before people can actually use the product: "Some of the technologies we're developing are a Big Deal and will take some time," it says. "So be patient."


In the meantime, a relatively unknown underdog appears to have gained a foothold. Eric Smith, the 19-year-old founder of -- a DivX developers site that launched a contest in May, offering $5,000 to anyone who could create an open-source DivX for Apple computers -- says that Project Mayo is destined to come in second.

"Five programmers in Belgium won the reward," he says, although noting that this only happened after an unnamed technology company kicked in an additional $45,000 to the pot. "The new DivX will be released for free and open-sourced some time in the next month," he says.

Since the code for today's DivX remains proprietary, "we're taking it a step further than Project Mayo" he added.


Of course, the user experience won't change too much. Like the DivX that video freaks and alleged pirates are using now, the software will contain an encoder and a decoder, and will be completely cross-platform, available for computers running Windows, Apple's operating systems and Linux-based operating systems, too.

But Smith says the new DivX -- which doesn't yet have a name -- has a few advantages.

"First of all, it's actually legal," he says, explaining that the DivX available on the Web today is based on a hack of Microsoft's Media Player. Smith's program was created for QuickTime, with Apple's blessing.


The QuickTime element offers another perk -- streaming.

"Having it in QuickTime allows us to stream it off the bat, rather than doing a file-download," he says. "You can just click and watch."

What do the folks at Project Mayo say about this? Not much. They didn't reply to a pair of e-mails. Nor did the Motion Picture Association of America return a call for comment.


But Smith, speaking from his hometown of Nashville, says he's not afraid of any repercussions. Granted, he tested the software by encoding, decoding and watching movies like "The Matrix" and "Run Lola Run," but he says there are no plans to market or use the product to copy and distribute DVDs. "We have no intention of making this a piracy device," he says. "We think it will be a device for streaming video in general. Nissan, for example, could use it to stream an advertisement for a Pathfinder."

Damien Cave

Damien Cave is an associate editor at Rolling Stone and a contributing writer at Salon.

MORE FROM Damien Cave

Related Topics ------------------------------------------