Alumnus Gary Sullivan Receives Engineering Emmy for Video Coding Work

December 4, 2017

Speed Alumnus Gary Sullivan was recently part of a team that received an Emmy at the 69th Annual Engineering Emmy Awards, an honor meant to recognize technical achievement. Since 1991, Sullivan has been involved in video compression design efforts, which have yielded two prior Emmy awards. Sullivan was one of the two co-chairman of a group, the Joint Collaborative Team on Video Coding or JCT-VC, that developed a video coding standard known as High Efficiency Video Coding, or HEVC.

Graduating with an MEng in Electrical Engineering in 1983, Sullivan went on to UCLA where he obtained his PhD. Sullivan began his professional career at a video conferencing company called PictureTel, before assuming his current position at Microsoft in 1999. His primary work is with the international community on standardization, where he works to evaluate the best technologies and document how they work.

He explains, “What I work on is called interoperability standards. It’s a way to ensure that what is made by one company will work for another company. Microsoft itself makes products that gets used by lots and lots of people. Any time you affect a Microsoft product, you’re having an effect on a lot of people.”

His work is primarily concerned with the relationship between decoders and how they understand data, and in making sure that various formats are compatible with one another. That work is ultimately aimed at continuing to improve the quality of video to match the pace of the available technology.

“What we would like to see is more and more adoption of the standard into products. The current most used format is called Advanced Video Communication, which is also something I helped develop," said Sullivan. "Most of the video in the world is using that format. We would like to see HEVC get adopted in a widespread way like AVC has. There are a number of considerations involved in adopting things into product. One of those is patent licensing. We’d like to see it used more.”

He remains humble despite his accomplishments looking forward to his continued efforts, rather than behind. Still, he admits, “It’s kind of funny having an Emmy laying around your house.”