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For six years, the Internet Nexus served as my technology blog, but I've since started blogging at the SuperSite Blog instead. If you're looking for the blog, please head there. --Paul

Monday, April 02, 2007

More than you ever wanted to know about audio formats

Thanks to David Caulton for reminding the world that, no, AAC is not an open standard:
Thought I'd lay out some fundamental facts about a few audio formats - some comments show some common misperceptions.

* Mp3 – the jpeg of digital music. Supported by everyone, everywhere. Mediocre compression efficiency, but utterly dominant in personal libraries because users can simply rip to a higher bitrate. Licensable by anyone for a low fee. Universal compatibility is mp3’s key feature.

* AAC – designed for MPEG, by MPEG. Largely associated with Apple at this point, AAC was designed by a licensing body, complete with patent pool, etc.. Licensable by anyone for a (relatively pricey) fee from MPEG-LA. High compression efficiency. Compatibility is fine – as long as you buy Apple products.

* WMA – Microsoft’s audio format. Adopted by most mp3 player skus (but not by most mp3 player units, thanks to the iPod..). Freely licensable for a low fee. Also associated with WMDRM, which is supported by playsforsure devices. High compression efficiency, good compatibility story, but not as good as mp3’s.

* Ogg, FLAC, etc… - Open source codecs. Generally good compression efficiency, but very low support from services and devices. To use these is to enter untested legal waters, but they’re very interesting, and nobody is asking for money for them...yet.
I'd add that the DRM-protected versions of AAC (Apple) and WMA (everyone else) are essentially separate formats from a compatibility standpoint. That is, just because a device or piece of software supports AAC doesn't mean that it also supports Fairplay-enhanced protected AAC (from iTunes).

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