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Thomson Releases MP3 Surround 283

Anonymous Howard writes "Thomson has released MP3 Surround, a new MP3 codec. They claim that MP3 Surround supports high-quality multi-channel sound at bit rates comparable to those currently used to encode stereo MP3 material, resulting in files half the size of common compressed surround formats while maintaining backwards compatibility. Wasn't MP3 Pro supposed to be a great new MP3 codec, but never took off? I wonder if this is going to go the same route. Does anyone have a technical view of MP3 Surround? Does it have potential?"
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Thomson Releases MP3 Surround

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  • by YetAnotherName ( 168064 ) on Thursday December 02, 2004 @07:53PM (#10980598) Homepage
    I'm sure I read that on Slashdot before. AAC and OggVorbis have pummeled it into oblivion. Netcraft must've confirmed it, right?

    Are my Slashdot stories flowing into each other again?
  • Screw em (Score:2, Interesting)

    Wonder why people complain that redhat does not even support mp3's and switched back to Windows?

    Patents are the reason and I do not want to support such a company. Do you?
  • No (Score:3, Insightful)

    by pcmanjon ( 735165 ) on Thursday December 02, 2004 @07:53PM (#10980606)
    Well, with so much of the internets illegal mp3's already encoded I don't think it will take off.

    I mean, theres terabytes out there in mp3 format, and it'd be too much hassle for everyone who has encoded their personal collection to this new mp3 format.

    It could take off, but unlikley. If it does, there will be a mix of the two formats, traditional mp3, and this new type.
    • Re:No (Score:5, Informative)

      by Zeal17 ( 602971 ) on Thursday December 02, 2004 @08:01PM (#10980702)
      It won't replace current mp3s. It will only be a method of compressing 5.1 channel surround sound files. It will only be useful for ripping DVD audio, or attaching it to DVD movies that have been compressed with divx or something.
      • by LuxFX ( 220822 )
        It won't replace current mp3s. It will only be a method of compressing 5.1 channel surround sound files. It will only be useful for ripping DVD audio

        In other words, the MPAA and RIAA are going to come down on this like a 500 ton brick.
    • Re:No (Score:2, Informative)

      by FuzzzyLogik ( 592766 )
      key here is that mp3 surround is backwards compatible.. meaning the new stuff could be encoded in mp3 surround. not that any cd's you get right now take advantage of surround sound anyway so it's worthless i think (correct me if i'm wrong)... but i think SACD and DVD-Audio do support surround sound so that's always an option for using this and maintaining the surround sound in the encoded format
    • Re:No (Score:4, Insightful)

      by MrResistor ( 120588 ) < minus poet> on Thursday December 02, 2004 @11:15PM (#10982317) Homepage
      My guess is that the question is largely irrelevant, at least from Thomson's point of view. The technology is very useful to Thomson, and it's really just gravy if someone else wants to license it from them (granted, it could be a lot of gravy, but that isn't why they developed it).

      You see, Thomson sells stuff under 4 brand names: consumer electronics are sold under Thomson (mainly in Europe) and RCA, and content production products under Technicolor and Grass Valley (a big name in TV production equipment). One of the areas they're particularly strong is Digital Video Servers, most of which are MPEG based. One of the big limitations on what you can do with those servers, especially when you're dealing with HD, is the bandwidth of the storage media. Anything that reduces the amount of bandwidth any given feature requires is good stuff. So this is a very useful technology for Thomson, and of course it will be a must have for anyone wanting to communicate with Thomson/Grass Valley video servers (which would be anyone in professional video production).

      It may or may not take off in the consumer market, but rest assured it will do just fine in the pro market.

  • by Knetzar ( 698216 ) on Thursday December 02, 2004 @07:54PM (#10980609)
    To me this codec seems more useful for programmers of games and multimedia applications then for home users.
    • by batkiwi ( 137781 ) on Thursday December 02, 2004 @08:32PM (#10981027)
      Usually a game sound is mono, and the sound engine renders it's position using some 3d sound API. Except for a cutscene, you'd never use a surround encoded sound.

      While you could "cheat" using this and have, say, 16 mp3s of a gunshot from 16 radials around the listener, I still don't see it as being that helpful.
    • by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Thursday December 02, 2004 @09:12PM (#10981424)
      Because of licensing. You have to pay a decoder license fee for each copy of the game you sell. So many of them are picking up OGG Vorbis instead. Most importantly, the Unreal Engine and now Doom 3 use them. Many games are based on the Unreal Engine and latest iD engine so it's likely to grow quite a bit.

      All things being equal, they'll probably use WMA instead if they want surround music since the license is cheaper, and you don't need one on Windows (it already knows how to play them back).
    • not really. (Score:3, Informative)

      by bani ( 467531 )
      games and multimedia programmers are using ogg vorbis. because it's more efficient space-wise, sounds better, and it's free.

      i don't see anyone using this for games. ever. it doesn't make sense technically and it doesn't make sense financially.
  • Screw Potential! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by way2trivial ( 601132 ) on Thursday December 02, 2004 @07:54PM (#10980612) Homepage Journal
    I wanna know- does it have DRM?
    • If it does, you can assure I won't be using it. I won't be using longhorn neither.
      • by BrookHarty ( 9119 )
        If it does, you can assure I won't be using it. I won't be using longhorn neither.

        I will be using Longhorn, DRM wont stop me from using it. I'll just use mp3 with longhorn. Longhorn like XP will tream DRM on DRM'ed media the same now as with 98/2K/XP.

        Just dont buy DRM'ed content.

        Also, MP3 Surround could take over AC3 tracks on DIVX CD's for space reasons. That might a very useful.
        • "I will be using Longhorn, DRM wont stop me from using it. I'll just use mp3 with longhorn. Longhorn like XP will tream DRM on DRM'ed media the same now as with 98/2K/XP.

          Just dont buy DRM'ed content.

          Well, true, right now you don't have to buy DRMed content and there's nothing to stop you from choosing because XP does not have any sort of iron-clad DRM built in. However, once Longhorn comes out with the NGSCB (or whatever they're calling it now), do you think that you will have the option to buy non-DR

      • If it does, you can assure I won't be using it. I won't be using longhorn neither.

        DRM media distribution in this context essentially means distribution to the home market, where Linux has a presence only as in embedded O/S in devices that do support DRM. DRM'd content, like Microsoft, isn't going away.

    • Re:Screw Potential! (Score:4, Interesting)

      by That's Unpossible! ( 722232 ) * on Thursday December 02, 2004 @08:51PM (#10981206)
      I wanna know- does it have DRM?

      That doesn't really matter. AAC doesn't "have" DRM either, but that doesn't stop Apple from using DRM with AAC (aka FairPlay).

      It really depends on the company distributing the MP3.

      The more relevant question is does it have licensing fees and patents encumbering it? I'm sure it does. Though that never really stopped MP3.
    • How can it have DRM if its backwards compatible?
      • a dvd player, can play DVD's (encrypted) and audio CD's (not encrypted) the backward compatible is that new players, be they software on a PC or hardware in a flash player, can play old files.. but all the new files would be protected.
  • OGG (Score:3, Funny)

    by mmegremis ( 836471 ) on Thursday December 02, 2004 @07:54PM (#10980618)
    What ever happend to .ogg? I though that was spose to take over..
    • Re:OGG (Score:2, Interesting)

      by eddy ( 18759 )

      What happened? I'm using it for all my music, and most game developers are using it for both music and sound-fx. Machinae Supremacy [] are still releasing songs in Vorbis, etc, etc.

      Try the tuned aoTuV version [] at q -2 and up.

    • Chicken and Egg. Portable players don't support it and those that do claim that it eats more power during the decode than mp3. I think FLAC will take off because it's lossless and open AFAIK.
      People who listen to music on surround setups probably want quality over miniscule files. A multichannel version of FLAC though with files distributed via bit torrent would be nice. A FLAC5.1 CD might weigh in at close to a GB but that's ok for audiophiles.
      • If its 1 GB, how did it ever fit on a CD? And where are you getting the extra information from when you reencode? I'm only being semi-serious.
        • by rco3 ( 198978 )
          You DID see the part where he said a FLAC*5.1* CD, didn't you? An uncompressed 5.1 CD would need (650 MB/2)*5.1=1.65GB, assuming that the encoders didn't bother encoding the sub channel at full rate. How much would FLAC compress that?
      • The decoders that support it mostly are using software (rather than hardware) decoding. They're using a general purpouse processor like say an ARM that also has a hardware mp3 decoder, so the ARM chip decodes ogg in a software mode (running the decoder like an application) while mps's are simply fed to the dedicated decoder logic, that knows specifically how to handle mp3 data to decode it, and uses less power.
        And actually the 'typical' 35 minute 'commercial' CD release would weigh in at around 546MB in FL
    • by FrYGuY101 ( 770432 ) on Thursday December 02, 2004 @09:21PM (#10981513) Journal
      Especially since OGG Vorbis can support 255 independant channels...
  • Once again.... (Score:3, Informative)

    by detritus` ( 32392 ) <> on Thursday December 02, 2004 @07:54PM (#10980619) Homepage Journal
    Once again, MP3 does what most people want it to do, and as such all the MP3 devices out there are good enough for the general public. Plus if its not backwards compatible it wont be adopted. Just accept it already. Even though i love .ogg, i dont think its ever going to take over the market in the near future, heck even sony's dropping its non-support of MP3, not just using aatrac or whatever anymore
    • Re:Once again.... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by evilviper ( 135110 ) on Thursday December 02, 2004 @08:03PM (#10980725) Journal
      Plus if its not backwards compatible it wont be adopted. Just accept it already.

      What evidence do you have of this? MPEG-4 sure isn't backwards compatible. AAC/WMA isn't backwards compatible, yet all of them are catching on.

      i dont think its ever going to take over the market in the near future

      Splitting infinitives is a crime punishably by a $500 fine, up to 3 days in jail, or both.
      • What evidence do you have of this? MPEG-4 sure isn't backwards compatible. AAC/WMA isn't backwards compatible, yet all of them are catching on.

        Those are catching on because they either offer a true advantage (MPEG-4 is needed for new high definition programming, and with HDTV finally taking off and technology such as HD-DVD coming out) or are an integeral part of a market leader, thus forcing their adoption (Ipod for AAC, and microsoft for WMA) However how many applications can really take advantage of 5.
        • Those are catching on because they either offer a true advantage

          As does Vorbis... Better quality at half the bitrate, or so.

          (MPEG-4 is needed for new high definition programming

          It WILL be needed on HD-players in the future, but it certainly isn't right now. Actually, that will be MPEG-4 AVC, which isn't really MPEG-4 at all. The current MPEG-4 has been in use for quite a long time now.

          (Ipod for AAC, and microsoft for WMA)

          Ipod also plays MP3 just fine, so you're argument is shot. These aren't itu

    • "At the same time, the new format offers complete backward compatibility to any existing mp3 software and hardware devices."

      So yes. According to the article at least, this should intermingle freely in the MP3 world. Extremely cool, that.

    • Re:Once again.... (Score:3, Informative)

      by zurab ( 188064 )

      Plus if its not backwards compatible it wont be adopted.

      Said an immediately modde up 5-digit /. poster without having read as much as a second sentence of the blurb which says:

      They claim that MP3 Surround supports high-quality multi-channel sound at bit rates comparable to those currently used to encode stereo MP3 material, resulting in files half the size of common compressed surround formats while maintaining backwards compatibility.

      That's the second sentence for crying out loud. The article itself,

  • by Linuxathome ( 242573 ) on Thursday December 02, 2004 @07:56PM (#10980635) Homepage Journal
    So does that mean I can re-encode my dvds to DiVX with surround sound? Or does that already do it now and I don't know it? Please don't mod me down, it's an earnest question.

    • by Jherek Carnelian ( 831679 ) on Thursday December 02, 2004 @08:16PM (#10980863)
      Typically the video is re-encoded and stereo audio gets turned into mp3 or ogg.

      If the audio track is multichannel, it is usually just preserved in the original encoding. AC3 (Dolby Digital) is usually either 384Kbps or 448Kbps on the DVD and DTS is usually 768Kbps with the rare 1.5Mbps track.

      Ogg vorbis does have provision for multichannel sound, up to (I think) 255 channels. I have not looked for over a year, but none of the encoders or decoders supported more than 2-channel ogg back then.
    • So does that mean I can re-encode my dvds to DiVX with surround sound? Or does that already do it now and I don't know it?

      You've been able to do this for years. An AVI file is simply a container. It can hold any video codec you want, which is identified by a four-character identifier. Likewise for audio. If you are ripping, you can simply take the AC3 sound channel you want and throw it in there. You need to get the codec to play it, but that's a no-brainer.

      OGG video, OGM, is the same idea. Both format

    • You can actually encode divx and xvid movies *right now* with surround sound - you just have to use a different codec.
  • in canada (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 02, 2004 @07:56PM (#10980639)
    mp3's surround you!
  • Hmmm (Score:4, Informative)

    by blackmonday ( 607916 ) on Thursday December 02, 2004 @07:56PM (#10980641) Homepage
    I'm not so sure surround sound *needs* MP3 compression. DVD Shrink shows movies' 5.1 DTS soundtracks using around 200 - 300MB. That's for a 1 1/2 to 2 hour movie. Not bad for 5 speaker surround, with subwoofer. Not shabby!

    • Re:Hmmm (Score:3, Interesting)

      by MukiMuki ( 692124 )
      Yeah, but DTS sounds like crap at that size compared to what mp3 would. DTS isn't designed to go 750kbits, it's kind of a hack they added later. Which is unfortunate, because now people can end up with bad DTS tracks. (to be quite honest, 640kbits AC3 sounds a lot better than 750kbits DTS. DTS just sounds nicer 'cause it's usually twice that.)

      MP3 surround will be very similar to AC3, only with less restrictive Dolby Digital crap. (give Thomson/Frauhenhour all the crap you want, but they've been pretty nice
  • Surround (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 02, 2004 @07:56PM (#10980644)
    Is it possible that most people simply don't have surround sound on their at their computers, or just listen to MP3s using MP3-players thus rendering this codec obsolete for most?
  • Oh Joy. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ackthpt ( 218170 ) on Thursday December 02, 2004 @07:58PM (#10980665) Homepage Journal
    I haven't even ripped the shrinkwrap of my new sound card (top o' the line as of 5 AM, today) and it's time to look for replacements.

    But... what music is in surround? Probably that long hair stuff conducted by some symphony orchestra. Certainly not The Beatles ... unless yetanother version of remastered classics come out.

    Screw it. I'll just go downtown and listen to some live music.

  • by PornMaster ( 749461 ) on Thursday December 02, 2004 @08:01PM (#10980703) Homepage
    "Regular people" won't pay anything extra for this... they'll only use it if it's done automatically for them. Perhaps it'll get thrown in with BluRay/HD-DVD on players, and then maybe it'll get phased in, but during that kind of a format change, you're not going to get Bob McCracken going to best buy looking for a progressive scan DVD player and looking for "MP3 Surround" on the spec sheet.
    • I can't see them moving away form Dolby Digital. It is supported by nearly every reciever out there, is the standard for HDTV, and space isn't an issue on HD-DVD discs. Moving to MP3 would just piss people off. You'd either have to get a new reciever that could handle MP3 deocding, or you'd have to have the HD player recompress it to DD, which would give you all the distortion of BOTH formats and thus totally defeat the purpose.
      • Dolby Digital is good, but it's competitor, DTS is better IMHO. It already comes as standard on most home theatre systems, and many movies have been mixed with a DTS track, so it's more likely to topple DD than MP3 is.

        • Quite true, but DD meets the same standard of MP3: Good enough. It's good enough for most people, and is standard in almost everything. Between DVD and HDTV using it, it's got a real lock on the market. Until there are enough people with high quality gear to demand an improvement, it's probably where it'll stay.

          Another advantage it has is almost all movies ship with it. They have the analogue audio tracks, and then have DD embeded in the tracks of the frame. Many these days also have SDDS on the edge. DTS,
  • DVB signals (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Most of the digital signal transmited on satellite are in MP2 format thats part of the DVB standard and they carry the surround sound. Dolby pro logic
  • by j1m+5n0w ( 749199 ) on Thursday December 02, 2004 @08:04PM (#10980737) Homepage Journal

    Since most audio files are ripped from stereo CDs, I suppose surround-sound MP3s aren't really all that useful for most people.

    I do have one quatrophonic record lying around somewhere, but since I don't have a record player, or a sound card with a four channel input, it's kind of hard to rip it to a surround sound audio format.

    Hopefully, whatever technology people are using for >2 channel audio eventually trickles down to the masses. Maybe itunes or whoever will start selling surround audio files, if they don't already.

    • People have been crowing on about the surround music revolution for ever (quadrophonic, ambisonic, DVD-A, etc) and jack and shit has ever some from it. It's always remained firmly in the enthusast domain.

      This is even less likely to change given how many peopel listen on portables these days. Those do only 2-channel, so the extra is nothing but a waste of space on the drive.

      I mean I love DVD-Audio disks in surround, but then I'm the only one of my friends that has ever heard one, much less owns one.
  • I wouldn't think that an MP3 surround format would really impact home theater systems too much. When you get into such high quality systems, lower bit rates on sounds would become very noticeable and therefore less attractive to the sound buff.

    Well, I guess the DiVx community will rejoice.
  • by ChiralSoftware ( 743411 ) <> on Thursday December 02, 2004 @08:04PM (#10980741) Homepage
    Why are they bothering with this? All the other standards that came after MP3 (AAC/Quicktime, Ogg, WMA) learned from MP3 and improved on it significantly. What's the issue with backward compatibility? Every player out there now can already play better formats.

    This is like trying to "improve" a car that's 30 years old when instead you could just have a modern car that doesn't need to be improved. Might be a fun hobby, but doesn't make sense as business idea.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 02, 2004 @08:07PM (#10980770)

    I've ripped a few music/concert DVD-Videos, downmixed to 2-channel Dolby Pro Logic--same thing you get on a 'surround sound' TV program--then encoded as MP3 and saved it in my collection. It works well enough for me. (A program called HeadAC3he will do it. Google it.) It's not real surround sound, but it sounds pretty decent on a surround sound setup. Also sounds cool on headphones.

    I have no need for a special codec whose special features aren't supported by any of my hardware or software.

  • Does Ogg do this? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Matt Perry ( 793115 ) <perry.matt54@[ ] ['yah' in gap]> on Thursday December 02, 2004 @08:13PM (#10980829)
    Doesn't the Ogg container already support multiple audio streams? Why a new format when you can put multiple streams in one container?
    • I don't think this is just multiple audio streams. They say claim that the file size should be simillar to a stereo MP3. This means that they must be taking advantage of the simillarities in the multiple channels, like MP3 joint stereo.
  • This codec could be a great alternative to AC3 audio used in DivX and Xvid. Would make the overall file size smaller.
    • by eddy ( 18759 )

      But the AAC stream typically makes up a small percentage of the whole file size. This won't make a meaningful contribution, especially not considering you'd have to reencode (wasting time and incurring quality loss).

      Unless this is going into some very popular hardware platform, it's stillborn.

  • by jd ( 1658 ) <> on Thursday December 02, 2004 @08:17PM (#10980869) Homepage Journal
    MP3 is dead, according to Netcraft. Ooops, sorry, wrong story. MP3 is an old codec, it's overly lossy, there are better codecs out there, and it's not clear that surroundsound would even be usable in the general case, or whether the distortion you're implicitly adding will become obnoxious noise from the compression effect.

    MP4 would have been a better choice, if an MP* algorithm had to be used, but I would have thought that broadcast-quality codecs would have made more sense.

  • Back when MP3s took off there were a number of independant encoders and decoders being actively developed. That is what helped make MP3 the digital format of choice, the wide choice of tools and players. I have a feeling that most people that hacked out those programs had no idea that they might have to pay pattent royalties on them some day.
    With each of these spin off MP3 formats you have one vender for your tools, and usualy just their plugins for players. Most programers know that they will have to deal
  • by MHobbit ( 830388 )
    Free Lossless Audio Codec is what you people should be using. Lossless audio, free, and open-source. However, I would convert some of my tracks to MP3 Surround if I had the time just for the heck of it.
  • by infofarmer ( 835780 ) <> on Thursday December 02, 2004 @08:36PM (#10981065) Homepage
    I think it sounds great. It absolutely can't provide for audiophile quality, but it still does wonders on 64-128Kbit/s bitrates. Admit it, that the one and only thing that buried it - was the stupid patenting/licensing scheme. But from a technical point of view, it left OGG/AAC/WMA a step behind.
    • I agree. I have an RCA Lyra RD2820 (iPod for poor people). All around, it isn't all that great, but it holds a lot of music, and it supports MP3PRO. 64bit sounds exactly like a 128 regular MP3. (but then again, I'm no audiophile.) Too bad MP3PRO never took off... It's divided the size of my music library by two. (and at 3000+ songs...)
  • Why is everyone going on about converting their MP3's to MP3-SURROUND?

    Pretty much all MP3s will be in stereo, converting them to a format who's only real purpose is to encode 5.1 sound better is like converting your JPEG collection to BMP to improve their quality.

    At any rate transcoding from one lossy music format to another is asking for trouble, even going from 192kbit MP3 to 128kbit AAC sounds nasty.
  • It is just another codec with the name "MP3" slapped on it, because they apparently hold the rights to it. This is marketing. It won't take off, because real MP3 isn't compatible and neither Microsoft nor any label is backing it. Devices on the market at the moment support MP3, WMA and some even OGG.
  • Well, it's true that mp3pro didn't really catch on due to the heavy competition in the 64kbps arena where it goes up against Ogg Vorbis, AAC (HE) and WMA, and performs rather decently []. But the "pro" portion (spectral bitrate replication) [] lives on as it can be plugged into just about any codec, and is now used in HE-AAC encoders such as Ahead Nero's.
  • headphones? (Score:2, Informative)

    How is surround sound in my MP3 going to help me where I listen to my MP3s: on my iPod? Until they come up with a device that gives me four or five ears, I can't see the benefit in using anything besides stereo (or fancy-fied stereo with simulated surround).
  • by sahonen ( 680948 ) on Thursday December 02, 2004 @11:09PM (#10982280) Homepage Journal
    MP3Pro failed because they didn't release the standard. Only someone who bought a license could encode or decode the bitstream, and guess what, nobody bought a license. If they learned from that mistake, MP3 Surround might take off. If not, well, you know.
  • ...No need (Score:2, Informative)

    by Hobadee ( 787558 )
    You don't need a separate format for surround (unless you are itching to waste drive space and need the absolute highest quality possible). I have a great MP3 which is Pro Logic encoded, I hook my computer up to my stereo, which has a Pro Logic decoder, via a standard stereo 3.5mm mini jack -> RCA and my stereo decodes it just fine. Damn nice surround effects at that.
  • This technology is of little benefit for encoding video DVD's audio tracks. Standard video DVDs audio is usually encoded via Dolby Digital 5.1. DD 5.1 uses a lossy compression algorithm, further compression won't result in dramatically smaller bit-streams (pigeonhole principle).

    Since DD 5.1 uses lossy compression, it is unsuitable for "high-end" purposes. The DVD audio format uses all the video space on the DVD for very high bit-rate (no lossy compression), high resolution, multi-channel audio. A DD 5.
  • iPod (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Refrag ( 145266 ) on Friday December 03, 2004 @12:37AM (#10982905) Homepage
    The headphones that come with the iPod are made for people with only two ears, so I don't see the point.
  • by iamacat ( 583406 ) on Friday December 03, 2004 @12:49AM (#10982971)
    The point is to recover high frequencies stripped of by low bit rate (64kbps) MP3 encoding, based on existing low frequencies and some hints on what is missing. The result is that you can listen to music radio over a 56K line. It's not great, but it will not hurt your ears. Musicmatch radio took a good advantage of this format.

    But at higher bit rate high frequences are already encoded and do not have to be recovered. Given that you are not going to encode surround sound at 64kbps, MP3Pro and MP3 surround will never be used together.

"I will make no bargains with terrorist hardware." -- Peter da Silva