Nokia has greatly widened multimedia codec support in the fifth edition of its S60 platform for Symbian OS, in an effort to overcome the problems of multimedia portability arising from codec proliferation. An important addition to the core is Microsoft's Windows Media Audio (WMA) format, which largely completes Nokia's audio codec support. However, some gaps still remain, notably the DivX Internet video codec and the popular, and free, Ogg family.
Nokia's effort to continue building out its media and codec support in S60 is a very positive move and one that consumers will benefit from, whether they are aware of the problem of media portability or not.
It's all very well for device vendors not to worry about multimedia portability - i.e. the ability to play back a media file on different devices without having to re-encode them first - if media is consumed within a largely closed ecosystem (Apple's being the most obvious) or if the user has no intention of moving beyond that environment. However, for a very large proportion of users, neither of these outcomes is either desirable or practical.
Many of us living in the digital media age have either already built, or are in the process of accumulating, considerable libraries of media files in a sometimes bewildering array of formats. Transcoding them from one format to another to play back or display on different devices is a major undertaking.
While some excellent PC-based tools that can help users achieve this already exist - Nero and Roxio being prime examples - they are only really of use to the highly motivated. Even a single effort to re-encode a full-length feature film from one format to another will typically be enough to convince people that the effort is not worthwhile.
If true media portability is to become a reality - and we believe it to be a cornerstone of enabling convergence - most consumers must instead rely on their devices and by extension the manufacturers of those devices to supply them with the tools to achieve media portability by pre-loading the necessary codecs on their devices.
Some manufacturers and some segments of the consumer electronics industry are better at this than others.
As a category, DVD players probably offer the widest media format support, and often ship with a very wide range of audio and video codecs, in particular. Elsewhere, portable media player specialist Archos has been very strong in offering broad-ranging codec support, although it has of late begun charging additional fees for some codecs on top of the cost of its devices.
Other consumer electronics segments have been less progressive in terms of media support - or at least in bringing their format support in line with that of the broader industry and, increasingly, with formats propagated over the web.
The mobile phone industry, in particular, has been somewhat distanced from these broader trends. Nokia, to its credit, has recognized the importance of compatibility as an essential building block of convergence and is reacting accordingly. Its support for web technologies is another clear example of this.
Nonetheless, there are still a few gaps we would like to see plugged. One is the DivX video format, beloved of P2P content sharers but a legitimate format in its own right.
Second would be support for the popular Ogg format for audio and video. While this may not be as widely used as many of the others Nokia does already support, the groundswell of interest from the free software community in Nokia products arising from such a move would have some worthwhile knock-on effects in terms of PR.