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MP3 Format Still Gathering Momentum 417

Posted by kdawson
from the thrashing-of-expiring-dinosaurs dept.
PoliTech sends us over to Billboard.com for a detailed article about the coming tipping point in the music business in favor of MP3. The two biggest drivers pushing Warner and Sony BMG toward MP3 are an upcoming massive Amazon-Pepsi download giveaway and a positive move by the usually maligned Wal-Mart (according to sources): "...Wal-Mart [alerted] Warner Music Group and Sony BMG that it will pull their music files in the Windows Media Audio format from walmart.com some time between mid-December and mid-January, if the labels haven't yet provided the music in MP3 format."
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MP3 Format Still Gathering Momentum

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 03, 2007 @08:41PM (#21566423)
    I am waiting for MP3.1 to come out before I try it.
  • by WindBourne (631190) on Monday December 03, 2007 @08:43PM (#21566447) Journal
    But MP3 is superior to WMA. It means that we will be able to listen to it when WE decide to, not when MS decides that we can.
    • by Grishnakh (216268) on Monday December 03, 2007 @09:01PM (#21566559)
      But MP3 is superior to WMA. It means that we will be able to listen to it when WE decide to, not when MS decides that we can.

      I'm usually a rabid MS-hater, but let's not spout FUD or falsehoods here. WMA is just a codec, and plays just fine on my Ubuntu machine. I'm pretty sure there's nothing that MS can do to take that away from me (technically, at least).

      However, WMA does suffer from the familiar problem many other codecs do, in that it's binary-only AFAIK, so just like WMV, Real codecs, Sorensen (Quicktime), etc., you need the binary codec files and a player (like MPlayer) designed to use them, in order to play files using these codecs. Not only is this of highly questionable legality, but it also doesn't work on non-Intel machines since you can't recompile for your architecture. MP3, OTOH, doesn't suffer from this at all since it's an openly-documented format, and many different implementations have been made, including many free encoders and decoders. It does, however, suffer from being covered by patents, which is a different issue.

      Ogg Vorbis, however, is truly the best option, since 1) it has the best technical performance of any of them, and 2) it's completely free and open, not just in implementation and code but also is free of patents. I keep all my ripped music in O-V format, which works equally well on my home machine playing Amarok, and on my portable iRiver H330.

      • by the_humeister (922869) on Monday December 03, 2007 @09:07PM (#21566615)

        but it also doesn't work on non-Intel machines since you can't recompile for your architecture.

        That's really not much of an issue though since you can always wrap the binary codec in an x86 emulator or disassemble and reassemble for your architecture.
        • by wvmarle (1070040)

          but it also doesn't work on non-Intel machines since you can't recompile for your architecture.

          That's really not much of an issue though since you can always wrap the binary codec in an x86 emulator or disassemble and reassemble for your architecture.

          Technically, maybe you can do this. The first may be the most workable option. However I have never heard of the second option having been done - if it had been done successfully it would certainly have been posted here on /. - and that means to me that it is so hard it's not worth it. Even for determined geeks with way too much time on their hands. The assembly instructions probably vary way too much over the various architectures.

          • by afidel (530433) on Monday December 03, 2007 @09:29PM (#21566779)
            Huh, DEC's FX!32 did both in the 90's to allow NT4 x86 programs to be run and then dynamically recompiled for use on the Alpha port of NT. That's one piece of software I wished were opensourced, I think a lot could be learned from it. Of course not all of the IP in it may have belonged to DEC, but most of it did since they had the best compiler guys in the business at the time.
            • Huh, DEC's FX!32 did both in the 90's to allow NT4 x86 programs to be run and then dynamically recompiled for use on the Alpha port of NT.

              We had that for VAX to Alpha conversion in OpenVMS as well, but it wasn't perfect. Some programs with a lot of low level bit manipulation would refuse to work on the alpha.

              I suspect that an audio/video codec would be in that category.

      • by YaroMan86 (1180585) on Monday December 03, 2007 @09:08PM (#21566631) Journal
        WMA is just a codec, and plays just fine on my Ubuntu machine. I'm pretty sure there's nothing that MS can do to take that away from me (technically, at least). While this is generally true, WMA and WMVs both are excellent vectors for dreaded DRM setups. Note that not all WMAs and WMVs carry it, but I prefer to stick with a format that is never really DRM'd in the first place, even if I have the same song, for example, in a non-blocked format or encapsulation. But you are indeed right about all that in your post. I just prefer to go by formats not designed by a company already somewhat infamous for trying to control my computer usage. (Microsoft is big on DRM and Trusted Computing, both of which rape the end user in the long run.) This is one of the big reasons why I'll never touch Windows Media Player or iTunes with a long pole. I must give Apple credit, however. They've been making some progress by stripping some DRM from iTunes, but not enough for my tastes. Just my opinion. Take it or leave it.
        • by Grishnakh (216268)
          While this is generally true, WMA and WMVs both are excellent vectors for dreaded DRM setups. Note that not all WMAs and WMVs carry it, but I prefer to stick with a format that is never really DRM'd in the first place, even if I have the same song, for example, in a non-blocked format or encapsulation. But you are indeed right about all that in your post. I just prefer to go by formats not designed by a company already somewhat infamous for trying to control my computer usage. (Microsoft is big on DRM and T
        • While this is generally true, .bins are excellent vectors for dreaded virus infections. Note that not all .bins carry them, but I prefer to stick with a format that is never really infected with a virus in the first place, even if I have the same program, for example, in a non-infected format or encapsulation.

      • Cool (Score:5, Insightful)

        by WindBourne (631190) on Monday December 03, 2007 @09:21PM (#21566725) Journal
        I'm usually a rabid MS-hater, but let's not spout FUD or falsehoods here. WMA is just a codec, and plays just fine on my Ubuntu machine. I'm pretty sure there's nothing that MS can do to take that away from me (technically, at least).

        So, you are saying that we can start including WMA codec in all of linux's everywhere without any issues from any countries legal entities? And I as a developer of a commercial radio/TV/Stereo running linux will have absolutely NO issue getting a license from MS for a reasonable Price? What do you mean no. But you said that I was spouting falsehoods. Or are you STILL not grasping at how much MS controls on this issue?

        Keep in mind that those who control MP3 have no issues with licensing on commercial Linux/BSD. But MS has other ideas in mind. This really is about freedom. And yes, my post stated that I prefer Ogg, but I will settle for MP3 for the reasons that I just stated. Hopefully, you will re-consider your statements

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Grishnakh (216268)
          So, you are saying that we can start including WMA codec in all of linux's everywhere without any issues from any countries legal entities? And I as a developer of a commercial radio/TV/Stereo running linux will have absolutely NO issue getting a license from MS for a reasonable Price? What do you mean no. But you said that I was spouting falsehoods. Or are you STILL not grasping at how much MS controls on this issue?

          Go back and re-read my post.

          No, there is nothing that MS can do to keep you from adding WMA
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            Sure, the common wisdom is that Ogg isn't patent-encumbered, but are you sure of that?

            I think we can be quite sure of that. Several years ago as ogg was being beta tested, Fahnhoffer made a lot of noise rattling their legal swords. The ogg folks sent them the source so they could see for themselves if anything patented was being used, and told them to put up or shut up. Fahnhoffer shut up. I think that says it all.

            What I fail to understand is that since ogg is the audibly superior method, and its free,
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510)

          Keep in mind that those who control MP3 have no issues with licensing on commercial Linux/BSD.
          Yeah, I really don't think so. [mp3licensing.com]
      • Ogg Vorbis, however, is truly the best option, since 1) it has the best technical performance of any of them

        I think the problem with Ogg Vorbis is that the technical performance on stereo music is not improved enough over LAME to make it worth using on a technical basis.

        At the transparency levels of both (lame -V 2 --vbr new & oggenc -q 5), ogg vorbis ends up only being about a quarter smaller (I test on a cd copy of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture). This is a good technical feat, but it is far cheap

        • by Grishnakh (216268)
          At the transparency levels of both (lame -V 2 --vbr new & oggenc -q 5), ogg vorbis ends up only being about a quarter smaller (I test on a cd copy of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture). This is a good technical feat, but it is far cheaper to make hard drives a a third bigger than it would be to displace mp3.

          Only a quarter? That sounds like a good enough reason to me. After all, compressed music files are usually (or at least greatly) played on portable devices. Desktop hard drives may be at 1 TB now, but p
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by badasscat (563442)
            several years ago, 20 and 40 GB iPods were common, but now the largest most people have is only 8 or 16 GB

            Several years ago, the largest iPod you could get was 40GB, and it cost $399. Nowadays, an 80GB iPod is $249.

            If you buy one that's smaller, that's your choice. Presumably, people with large music collections would not buy a smaller device. You're somehow equating buying trends with the available choices on the market, and there is no correlation. In other words, the fact that 8GB or 16GB iPods are s
      • Ogg Vorbis, however, is truly the best option, since 1) it has the best technical performance of any of them, and 2) it's completely free and open, not just in implementation and code but also is free of patents. I keep all my ripped music in O-V format, which works equally well on my home machine playing Amarok, and on my portable iRiver H330.

        1) Care to provide any concrete studies stating that OGG is "technically" superior to MP3, AAC, or WMA? AFAIK, all four have been shown to shine in some areas, and pe

      • by cayenne8 (626475) on Monday December 03, 2007 @11:02PM (#21567525) Homepage Journal
        "But MP3 is superior to WMA. It means that we will be able to listen to it when WE decide to, not when MS decides that we can."

        Yeah, but .wav/PCM is better than either of them...FLAC if you need compressed.

        I'm worried that all of this is leading to a time where you can only find the inferior lossy formats of music!?!?

        I'd still rather get a CD, and rip it to lossless for home audio, and then to lossy for portables or the car...two of the worst listening environments there are.....

        Doesn't anybody appreciate fidelity any longer?

        It isn't like bandwidth is that big of a roadblock any longer...why not offer selections in a lossless format online if you must purchase online?

    • by no_opinion (148098) on Monday December 03, 2007 @09:13PM (#21566663)
      This is an interesting problem, because the companies have to choose between interoperability and customer choice. The *only* way to guarantee that a file will play on a digital music player is to sell it in MP3. One point of moving away from DRM is to end the format war. However, if an average consumer buys an AAC or OGG file and finds that it won't play on their MP3 player (car stereo, set-top-box, digital picture frame, whatever) they're going to be pissed and the format war will continue to rage on.

      So I get the desire for Ogg, but to get to a market where format is not an issue, the music companies have to mandate MP3.
      • So I get the desire for Ogg, but to get to a market where format is not an issue, the music companies have to mandate MP3.

        It costs nothing to add ogg decoders to hardware. Unlike mp3, ogg is patent, license and royalty free. My PDA does ogg and so does my better portable player. It's just software and this is not a technical problem, it's a monopoly problem [theregister.co.uk].

        • by TubeSteak (669689) on Monday December 03, 2007 @09:46PM (#21566913) Journal

          It costs nothing to add ogg decoders to hardware. Unlike mp3, ogg is patent, license and royalty free. My PDA does ogg and so does my better portable player. It's just software and this is not a technical problem, it's a monopoly problem.
          IIRC, it takes more CPU power to decode OGG files than to decode MP3s.
          (I don't recall where WMA fits in all this)
          Not all portable players have the CPU to decode OGG. So it's not just software.

          http://gizmodo.com/archives/ogg-on-ipod-why-the-ipod-may-not-have-the-horsepower-for-ogg-015607.php [gizmodo.com]
          • Rockbox. (Score:4, Informative)

            by Erris (531066) on Monday December 03, 2007 @09:56PM (#21566973) Homepage Journal

            IIRC, it takes more CPU power to decode OGG files than to decode MP3s.

            My PDA does it, my tiny Trekstore does it, and so can your iPod [cnet.com]. This is NOT a technical issue.

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by 7Prime (871679)
              The point isn't that iPods and other players don't have the power to decode Oggs (hell, they all do video, which is in a whole 'nother league), but more processing power sucks up more juice, and that's pretty crucial for portable devices. And we're talking about QUITE A BIT more battery power... like a 25% loss in consumption. Most people will trade the small decrease in sound quality just for that, even before we talk about it's widespread use.
          • Not true any more (Score:5, Informative)

            by DrYak (748999) on Monday December 03, 2007 @11:15PM (#21567587) Homepage

            IIRC, it takes more CPU power to decode OGG files than to decode MP3s.


            It used to be true several years ago with the first generations of MP3 player, where the playing was done by a dedicated hardware MP3 decoder and the player only had a under powered CPU for driving the menus. (I've even seen schematics for homebrew players usings PICs together with hardware decoders).

            Nowaday there's much more horse power in all players (even enough to play AAC or WMA). So integrating OGG/Vorbis is easy and is in fact systematically done in Samsung players (and in a lot of brand-less players from unkown asian makers).
            There's even FLAC support in some of the bigger asian boxes.

            Also notice that, since the first claims that Vorbis is too ressoruce consuming, note that the Tremor library has been made open source. That library does all the decoding using integer registers on the CPU, and thus is much more compatible with the small RISC processors lacking FPU units found in most players.

            Rockbox is a firmware for portable player, ported among other to the iPod, thus proving that OGG/Vorbis can be played in almost all but the oldest player hardwares (realtime playback since 4th generation).

            And I can't think of a modern PDA that doesn't play OGG/Vorbis (my mostly 4 years old Tungsten does it).

            There's no excuse for not supporting OGG/Vorbis, Samsung's doing it, a lot of lower profile makers too, Rockbox is doing it on recent iPods...

            (I don't recall where WMA fits in all this)


            My personal experience on the desktop is that it's a little bit more resource consuming than OGG and AAC.
            Thus hardware capable of playing MP3/WMA/AAC should be able to handle Vorbis too (and FLAC and Speex seem to be available on most hardware too, according to Rockbox)
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by LordNimon (85072)
          It costs nothing to add ogg decoders to hardware.

          That is just not true. There are costs:
          • You have to pay your engineers to research and implement support. In fact, there may be a validated and certified MP3 implementation already available for your hardware, but not an OGG implementation.
          • You have to pay your lawyers to verify that it's patent- and royalty-free.
          • You may need to increase the amount of processing power or memory to handle the additional codec.
          • You'll need to perform additional testing
          • by Erris (531066)

            You can say all of that about any embedded device, but free software is winning the day anyway. Licensing fees, SDKs and the intentional waste created by non free software add up when you sell by the million and have to rewrite all of your software for each new piece of hardware. Do you really think there's room for licensing fees on a device that retails for $27? Free formats will dominate eventually if for no other reason that the expiration of mp3 patents. A free market will move to ogg sooner than t

          • You have to pay your engineers to research and implement support. In fact, there may be a validated and certified MP3 implementation already available for your hardware, but not an OGG implementation.

            There's already an open source reference implementation. I'm not sure, but it might be public domain -- in any case, it's been ported enough places that I imagine it's fairly portable C by now.

            You have to pay your lawyers to verify that it's patent- and royalty-free.

            Or you can just tell your bosses that it i

        • Even though your statement is not true (see other child posts), that is not the point. The fact is that the majority of digital audio players on the market play mp3 but not ogg. So the problem is that there is an installed base of (millions of) players that can only be guaranteed to play MP3. If you want to solve the interoperability problem and avoid consumer confusion, the choice is clear.
        • by tepples (727027)

          It costs nothing to add ogg decoders to hardware.

          Citation needed. An decoder ASIC that takes an MPEG bitstream on one pin and produces a PCM bitstream on the other pin isn't going to be able to parse the Ogg container, let alone decode Vorbis.

          My PDA does ogg

          A lot of people don't have a dedicated PDA. They have a portable digital audio player and a cheap mobile phone [urbandictionary.com], or they have a portable digital audio player and a land line.

          and so does my better portable player.

          I like to be able to touch a floor model before I buy a device, and I like to be able to return it in-store if it fails. I haven't seen any Co

      • That's the way I most often see it done. mp3 for people who want it to "just work" without having to think about it, and flac so I can re-encode it to a better format if my player supports it.
    • Ok, how?

      A) WMA does have better audio quality than MP3, by a factor of 1.5 to 2 times. And this is a good thing as all decoding chips in portable music players all have WMA support, unless it is crippled like the iPod. So you can throw your songs in WMA at 64 or 128 and have almost twice the fidelity of an MP3, especially when you add in better variable bit rate support, etc.

      B) WMA does not inherently use or need DRM, and MS themselves don't push DRM, so it is just as free to copy and decode as MP3. The onl
      • by FishWithAHammer (957772) on Monday December 03, 2007 @09:37PM (#21566851)
        A) WMA does have better audio quality than MP3, by a factor of 1.5 to 2 times. And this is a good thing as all decoding chips in portable music players all have WMA support, unless it is crippled like the iPod. So you can throw your songs in WMA at 64 or 128 and have almost twice the fidelity of an MP3, especially when you add in better variable bit rate support, etc.

        Proof please? I've never seen this substantiated. Also, how do you quantify "better audio quality" numerically?
        • by NMerriam (15122) <NMerriam@artboy.org> on Monday December 03, 2007 @10:03PM (#21567027) Homepage

          Proof please? I've never seen this substantiated. Also, how do you quantify "better audio quality" numerically?


          You quantify it with double-blind ABX testing across large groups of people. Drop by Hydrogenaudio's Listening tests [hydrogenaudio.org] wiki list for a start.

          WMA, AAC, OGG, etc are all next-generation codes, it should come as no surprise that they perform better than MP3 for most material to most listeners under most circumstances. Really the only surprise in the past few years of listening tests is haw amazing the guys at LAME are at adding life to MP3.
          • by badasscat (563442) <basscadet75.yahoo@com> on Tuesday December 04, 2007 @12:25AM (#21568069)
            You quantify it with double-blind ABX testing across large groups of people. Drop by Hydrogenaudio's Listening tests wiki list for a start.

            WMA, AAC, OGG, etc are all next-generation codes, it should come as no surprise that they perform better than MP3 for most material to most listeners under most circumstances.


            They do not. Here: http://www.rjamorim.com/test/multiformat128/results.html [rjamorim.com]

            I know you mentioned LAME in your last sentence, but I'm not sure how that doesn't invalidate your last sentence. If it doesn't, then the listening test above does.

            I'll sum up the double-blind test results above: LAME-encoded mp3's sound as good as AAC files and better than WMA files at the same bit rate. (The bit rates varied by insignificant amounts.)
            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by NMerriam (15122)
              Just to add some context here: you are correct that the single test you linked does not definitively prove "MP3 is dead!". But no, it doesn't invalidate my initial statement that listening tests agree other codecs are the future. In the past several years of testing, over a variety of tests with a variety of bitrates, even the LAME MP3 has been usually in the lower range of results (often within the realm of statistical uncertainty, as in the result you linked), but it certainly is not gaining ground on its
        • by gnud (934243)
          Also, how do you quantify "better audio quality" numerically?

          Ehm, just off the top of my head, perhaps "less lossy compression" would be a start?
      • A) WMA does have better audio quality than MP3, by a factor of 1.5 to 2 times. And this is a good thing as all decoding chips in portable music players all have WMA support, unless it is crippled like the iPod. So you can throw your songs in WMA at 64 or 128 and have almost twice the fidelity of an MP3, especially when you add in better variable bit rate support, etc.

        WMA only performs well at extremely low bit rates (we're talking sub 128kb/s here), and by that time, you've already thrown away all chance

    • by heatdeath (217147)
      But MP3 is superior to WMA

      Only WMA with licensing. WMA without music licensing is far better in terms of compression and quality. It even has lossless encoding for the ogg fanboys out there. =P
  • by mqduck (232646)
    By "MP3", do they mean "post-MP3 lossless audio codecs"? Because I'm pretty sure MP3 has been going downhill ever so slightly for a while now.
    • by mqduck (232646)
      God, I meant "post-MP3 LOSSY audio codecs". Today is not my day.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by wizardforce (1005805)
        you did have a point though, considering that we have FLAC which is free as in libre *and* loss-less why use MP3?
        • Re:MP3 (Score:4, Informative)

          by 404notfound (467950) on Monday December 03, 2007 @09:32PM (#21566803)
          FLACs are huge.
          • The meaning of "huge" changes pretty fast in this industry. The size difference between 128kbps MP3 and FLAC is 2x-8x. How long did it take for ipods to increase capacity by 2x-8x?
          • by hitmark (640295)
            and relatively unknown. MP3's have been shared online and burned to cd's for quite a number of years now.

            and just like the cd and dvd, the format is good enough for most consumers.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Super_Audio_CD [wikipedia.org] has yet to get any mindshare from the consumers.

            the format war on the video side we can all see in the tech news on a daily basis.

            thing is this, cd and dvd could may well be the last physical formats out there for audio and video.
            these days, with growing ever present internet access and
    • Re:MP3 (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Cadallin (863437) on Monday December 03, 2007 @08:53PM (#21566511)
      Unfortunately, No, the mean straight mp3s. Because mp3s are now like .doc files apparently. Even though there are alternatives that are superior, and yes, cheaper, people still want mp3s the way they want Microsoft Office.
      • by MightyYar (622222)
        Aren't most digital music files sold as AAC?
      • by l3prador (700532)

        Unfortunately, No, the mean straight mp3s. Because mp3s are now like .doc files apparently. Even though there are alternatives that are superior, and yes, cheaper, people still want mp3s the way they want Microsoft Office.

        Mmm. Not exactly. By this point, everything from DVD players to cell phones to car stereos to Barbie Dolls have MP3 support implemented in hardware, or at least implemented in someway that is not easily modified. This is not as simple as installing OpenOffice.org on your computer. The MP3 format is going to be around for a long time, and even when other formats gain footholds, it will still be necessary for many devices to transcode back into MP3.

    • Re:MP3 (Score:5, Insightful)

      by dgr73 (1055610) on Monday December 03, 2007 @09:57PM (#21566981)
      Ahem, seems like a short history lesson is in order.. *Pulls out a slide rule and a stern expression*..

      MP3 has several things on it's side that have been successful for other products in historical situations:

      1. all things being equal, the sexier sounding name wins. And "empeethree" has a simplistic, yet technical sound to it. Whereas AAC and WMA can be thrown right out the window. Ogg has some appeal, but nowhere near the sexiness of mp3.

      2. Recognition.. whenever a brand has become synonymous with the whole technology they have had the advantage of immediate recognition, this is a major marketing advantage (free publicity anyone?). A lot of who use WMA will still talk about their "MP3 songs".

      3. Now.. as to being "inferior" technically. You need only to look at things like DC and AC, VHS and Betamax or Amiga and PC (oh boy, am I gonna get it for that last one) to see that the technically superior solution is not always the one that ends up on top.

      However, while the wide proliferation of MP3 *SEEMS* to guarantee it's future based on similar historical events, there is always one historical factor that could change it all: A new technology that offers a decisive advantage over MP3 and manages to capture a fanatical core fanbase. Such pieces of technology have many times overtaken rivals with near total market dominance (does anyone remember Atari, 3Dfx, or Altavista?).

      But until something earthshattering comes forth, I see cool runnings for the old, venerable, MP3.

      • I think Guilder's Rule applies here. The thing is, this is a commodity function. People just want a convenient and ubiquitous format for storing music. I have a hard time imaging a compression scheme that would be an order of magnitude "better" (and that's a relative term) than MP3. About the only quantity that would really matter for most people is file size, and I have an even harder time imagining a format that would squeeze a song from four or five megabytes down to 512K.
  • by javilon (99157) on Monday December 03, 2007 @08:49PM (#21566479) Homepage
    die .wma die a horrible drm'd death!!!
  • by Invisibleh8 (1197909) on Monday December 03, 2007 @08:51PM (#21566497)
    There is nothing they are going to do that convinces me sound isn't free. I have been to over 75 concerts if they want my money I am more than willing to pay to see a band worth it.
  • No big surprise (Score:5, Informative)

    by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Monday December 03, 2007 @08:52PM (#21566507)
    For a number of reasons:

    1) MP3 was the first. It wasn't the first compressed music format, not by a long shot. Hell after PCM was designed as a method for storing audio I'm sure probably the next day someone came up with ADPCM. However it was the first one any normal person had ever heard of. Prior to MP3, compressed music just wasn't something a normal person was aware of. There was CDs, or older formats. Well being the first gets it some staying power. It has the biggest name, the most recognition, etc.

    2) MP3 implies no DRM. While I'm sure DRM can be hacked on top of it, as with anything, the format itself isn't set up for DRM. It was also what was widely used in free programs like Napster. Thus it doesn't have a DRM rep. The newer formats, though not mandating DRM, seem to support it and people have gotten burned. I've talked to more than a couple people who've bought music and then discovered they couldn't get it on to some device they wanted. MP3 doesn't have that problem.

    3) Because it is so old, MP3 is widely supported. Everything plays MP3s. If I want to play music on my DVD player, MP3 is the format to use. It doesn't support AAC or WMA. Same thing with portables. What additional formats they support is hit and miss, but they -all- do MP3. Hence you get music in MP3 format, you never worry about "Will it play?"

    4) Because it is "Good enough." There is no question, the new formats are way better at compression, especially at lower bitrates. That's nice, but people don't give a shit. MP3 is good enough. Most people would call MP3 @ 128k CD quality, because on their equipment, it sounds like it is. @ 192k it is getting hard to tell without good gear. @ 256k, even pros on good gear under double blind tests can't pick it out reliably for normal music. As such people just don't really care about the gains. Sure, AAC is better per bit. However if people already consider their music "perfect" then why do they care?

    As such there just isn't a compelling reason for most people to move off of MP3. I am not at all surprised that many people actively seek it out over newer formats. Technical arguments about perceptual encoding are lost on them. All they want is music they can listen to on everything without hassle, and MP3 is that.
    • Re:No big surprise (Score:5, Insightful)

      by evilgrug (915703) on Monday December 03, 2007 @09:04PM (#21566577)
      5) Despite the fact that the MP3 technology is over a decade old, encoders are still getting better. You only have to look at the progress LAME has made (particularly the 3.90 and 3.97 'milestone' releases) in not just surpassing the quality of other once-popular MP3 encoders such as Fraunhofer and Xing but in some more recent listening tests even equalling its successor [listening-tests.info], at ~128kbps VBR, let alone the more high quality VBR presets (V0/V2) that many people rip in and that most pirated releases are released in via the scene.
      • I haven't played with MP3 much at 128k because I don't find that bitrate very useful, I tend to either be shooting for something lower because space (or usually bandwidth) is a premium, or simply doing much higher quality encoding. Wouldn't surprise me that MP3 is competitive at 128k, LAME is very good. At high (>192k) bitrates I find it, and basically any other good coded (like OGG and WMA) to be "CD quality." That is to say that on reasonably high end consumer gear, it is hard to reliably pick it out v
    • 5) M$. (Score:5, Informative)

      by Erris (531066) on Monday December 03, 2007 @09:35PM (#21566839) Homepage Journal

      A Court proved anti-trust violation [theregister.co.uk] is the primary reason you can't find cheap multiformat players, specifically players that work with ogg.

      • 6) Nope (Score:2, Insightful)

        by willyhill (965620)
        Since that never actually came to pass, your theory that "M$" is somehow responsible for the lack of Ogg support in media players (as opposed to, say, the sheer inertia of MP3) is somehow hard to believe, no matter how many times you post [slashdot.org] the same [slashdot.org] thing [slashdot.org] in the same article.

        Repetition does not engender truth.

    • 1) Free, open source, no royalties. Costs you nothing to allow it, even if you already have mp3.

      2) Because you can re-encode to anything else.

      3) Because saying "digital music" is just as easy as saying "mp3 file", and is actually far more likely to be understood.

      I'm not saying there shouldn't be mp3 files also. But I am saying that everywhere there's mp3, there should also be flac derived from the original source, if it's available. (Assuming the "original source" isn't mp3.)
  • by bcrowell (177657) on Monday December 03, 2007 @08:53PM (#21566513) Homepage

    I guess this can be taken as good news, since the alternative was presumably some DRM'd format.

    On the other hand, mp3 is still patent-encumbered [wikipedia.org], and in fact the patent situation is such a mess that nobody even knows for sure when the last patent will expire. You can get a royalty-free license to use a decoder, or to use an encoder for noncommercial use, but ...

    The lack of support for open audio and video codecs is a real problem now, because essentially flash is shaping up to be a completely necessary part of people's ability to do things with their computers, and one of the many ways that adobe is keeping flash proprietary is that they only support proprietary audio and video codecs for flash. Now matter how much java applets may have sucked in various ways, at least the technology was always free as in beer (and is now becoming free as in speech).

    Even though buying music downloads in a DRM-free format like mp3 is a step up from buying them in a DRM'd format, there are still a lot of issues. You may have to agree to a license that forbids you from reselling the music, and takes away your fair use rights as well.

    Personally, what works for me is buying CDs. There's no DRM, and no license. I can resell them. I don't need to back them up, because the disks *are* the backup. If I feel like it, I can copy them onto my mp3 player for personal use, and it's legal. If I feel like it, I can copy them onto my computer's hard disk, and put the actual optical disks somewhere else as backups. The only reason I'd really be interested in buying music digitally would be in cases where the music is out of print. Why buy it as a download, when my very first act after downloading it would be to burn it onto a CD as a backup?

    • by evilviper (135110) on Tuesday December 04, 2007 @12:00AM (#21567879) Journal

      On the other hand, mp3 is still patent-encumbered,

      Use MP2 instead. Backwards compatibility is inherent. Anything that can play MP3 can play MP2 files as well. And at bitrates of 160kbps+ (Joint Stereo, psy-1) MP2 actually sounds better than any MP3 as well. Not to mention it both encodes and decodes faster.

      In fact I'd put MP2 up against DD/AC3/A52 any day. Dolby has a history of bribing organizations to NOT include MP2 along-side AC3, such as the US DVD and HDTV standard. In the rest of the world, patent-free MP2 is allowed on DVDs and in digital TV, in addition to AC3.

      The lack of support for open audio and video codecs is a real problem now, because essentially flash is shaping up to be a completely necessary part of people's ability to do things with their computers, and one of the many ways that adobe is keeping flash proprietary is that they only support proprietary audio and video codecs for flash.

      You're just about completely wrong.

      Flash video 7 used a slightly modified h.263 codec. Non-standard, I must admit, but it was very quickly reverse engineered. Not only can anything based on libavcodec play flash videos, but the open source Flash player/plugin GNASH can play them as well, even though it's still developing, and quite buggy at the moment.

      Flash 9 added On2's proprietary VP6 codec, but use of that format has been quite limited.

      And what's the audio codec with both of them? Plain old MP3.

      Plus, Adobe long ago announced the shift to completely standard video formats. The recent beta versions of the Flash9 plugin can play MP4 files with h.264 and AAC audio. All 100% open standard, and interchangeable with Quicktime, MPlayer, etc.

      Now matter how much java applets may have sucked in various ways, at least the technology was always free as in beer (and is now becoming free as in speech).

      Flash was opened up before Java was, and there are numerous 3rd party implementations of Flash. Gnash is even open source, and can handle many of the common Flash videos found in the wild.

  • Classics MP3s (Score:5, Informative)

    by Lars T. (470328) <Lars DOT Traeger AT googlemail DOT com> on Monday December 03, 2007 @09:00PM (#21566555) Journal
    Deutsche Grammophon have just opened their huge catalogue of Clasical Music and are now selling them as 320 kbps MP3s here [deutschegrammophon.com].
  • How Ironic (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MichaelCrawford (610140) on Monday December 03, 2007 @09:06PM (#21566611) Homepage Journal
    I figured that the reason Walmart was dumping WMA was that it won't play on iPods. According to TFA that seems to be the case.

    Apple has their own proprietary format called AAC; iTunes Music Store downloads are in AAC format, some of them DRMed but some not. In the battle for the hearts and minds of music fans, Microsoft will never support AAC, and Apple will never support WMA. So MP3 is left as the common denominator.

    (AAC isn't as proprietary as WMA in that the file format is publicly documented, but it is patent-encumbered so that Free Software implementations such as faad and faac are illegal in countries like the US that recognize software patents. Unlike MP3, there is no free license for decoders, one has to pay for a patent license for them.)

    I can imagine that Walmart.com's tech support has gotten pretty sick of fielding complaints that their downloads don't work on iPods...

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by mckniffen (983873)

      Apple has their own proprietary format called AAC

      What an insensitive clod!

      AAC is not Apple Proprietary, it is in fact License and Royalty Free and a superior Codec. Hence the reason that it is pushed as MP3's successor.

      MP3's limitations lie in the fact that it is a Royalty Ridden Audio Codec. Mean using MP3 for commercial use requires an fee, not exorbitant by any means, but enough to throw off your local recording/production studio to a superior format.

      If the only reason why MP3 is used is because is just plays on 'everything' then why do I hav

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by SeaFox (739806)

        AAC is not Apple Proprietary, it is in fact License and Royalty Free and a superior Codec. Hence the reason that it is pushed as MP3's successor.

        That is also incorrect. T.T

        From Daring Fireball [daringfireball.net]:
        "For up to 400,000 units per year, AAC playback costs $1.00 per unit; for more than 400,000 units per year, the price drops to $0.74 per unit."

        I've always been under the understanding that the only truly free codec is OGG.

        I think Fraunhofer pushed AAC as being MP3's successor partially because, at the time, the musi

    • Re:How Ironic (Score:5, Informative)

      by SeaFox (739806) on Monday December 03, 2007 @09:33PM (#21566819)

      Apple has their own proprietary format called AAC;

      AAC is not an Apple proprietary format.

      I believe the only reason this idea ever began is because the iPod was one of the first commercial products to support it, and at the time it was a relatively new format, so to laymen the only thing that could play AAC was an iPod. Since they never bothered to find out what AAC stood for, they decided it must be "Apple Audio Codec" since that fit their pre-conceived idea it was an Apple-only format.

      AAC was developed by Dolby labs if I remember right, and many other portable music players support it now, including Sony's newer digital music players and some cell phones.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by earlymon (1116185)
      1. AAC is not Apple proprietary, nor was it developed, subsidized or (parent company) purchased by Apple. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Advanced_Audio_Coding [wikipedia.org]

      2. "Microsoft will never support AAC..." - except, it seems that they already do. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zune [wikipedia.org] (not to mention Windows Mobile....)

      3. The faad and faac are illegal in the US - try http://www.audiocoding.com/ [audiocoding.com] - source is there, not binaries (see Wiki, again) and then also try to tell me what is the issue? Are you trying to sugge
      • by MichaelCrawford (610140) on Tuesday December 04, 2007 @12:53AM (#21568243) Homepage Journal
        VLC is a project developed by a French technical school, as a programming exercise for its students. The reason they can support AAC as well as numerous other patented formats is that France doesn't recognize software patents - yet.

        I know this because I specifically asked on their developer mailing list; I'd like to support AAC in my own application Ogg Frog [oggfrog.com], but I can't, because I live in the US.

        While there's been no enforcement action so far, it's my understanding that it's illegal for Americans to even download VLC, let alone use it.

  • by 8127972 (73495) on Monday December 03, 2007 @09:08PM (#21566627)
    .... as I actually find myself cheering for the evil WalMart empire who doesn't seem so evil at the moment.

    My mind is going. I can feel it.
    • .... as I actually find myself cheering for the evil WalMart empire who doesn't seem so evil at the moment.

      My mind is going. I can feel it.


      Don't worry, Hal ... you'll get over it. So will Wal-Mart.
  • ... that when I saw the title, the first question I had is "well how are they quantifying momentum? Is the MP3 format going much slower than the speed of light or do they have to include a Lorentz factor? It the MP3 format actually traveling faster or did it just have a large thanksgiving dinner with lost of leftovers?"
  • Tipping Point? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by John Sokol (109591) on Monday December 03, 2007 @09:42PM (#21566889) Homepage Journal

      Wouldn't there have to be something else to be tipping away from first?

      I mean since 1996 MP3 has been it. Period. Where was nothing before it.

        All compressed audio formats that came before either sounded like crap or were some secret sauce, that was closed source close specs, that you had to pay $50,000+ for and had to program windows library's to use.
      Yes AAC came out in 1997 and it's actually better then MP3 in almost all measures, but there still isn't any decent application to use it.

     
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Yosho (135835)
      Yes AAC came out in 1997 and it's actually better then MP3 in almost all measures, but there still isn't any decent application to use it.

      What do you mean by that? Every popular audio playing application I'm aware of supports it. The world's most popular portable music player supports it, and many of the less popular ones do, too. How many "decent" applications can't use it?
  • Wal-Mart (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Angst Badger (8636) on Monday December 03, 2007 @11:03PM (#21567535)
    [...] and a positive move by the usually maligned Wal-Mart

    You say this as if Wal-Mart was somehow being charitable or virtuous instead of plotting to drown puppies. Wal-Mart just does what its management thinks will be profitable without much regard to ethics one way or another. Plainly, Wal-Mart management thinks they'll make more money with MP3 than WMA. That's all. If they thought they could somehow make money from drowning puppies, they'd do that, too, and if anyone objected, some PR drone would be sent out with a press release declaring that drowned puppies is what Wal-Mart customers really want, and what's more, it's good for America.

    Although it may seem so at times, giant corporations like Wal-Mart and Microsoft really aren't out to do harm. It just happens that doing harm to a largely captive audience is often a lot more profitable than charging a fair price for quality goods and services and treating employees well. It's just Adam Smith's invisible hand grabbing you by the short hairs.

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