This week in Codec Sports World, we’re gonna look at improving your swing, George Bush’s pretzel-cam, some people doing things with balls while other people watch, plastic-wrapping your internal organs for better steroid use, and of course, the latest in codecs and file compression for all your music and data needs.
Hands up who’d even heard of MP3s 5 years ago? The adoption of this audio codec has been so successful, so widespread, that one might be confused into thinking it is the only method of compressing a music file into a smaller size. And while it’s good at what it does, good is the enemy of great, as we like to say in our 3D motivational meetings.
In the silver corner, wearing a tartan skirt and star trek top, is the Ogg Vorbis project, hoping to shrink your files further, and deliver better sound quality. If ever something was named by role-playing computer science students, then Ogg Vorbis surely is it. Marketing savvy aside, it turns out they’re nifty at what they do, and have deeper motivations.
The Ogg Project
Designed to create a fully open multimedia system, the Ogg project is being developed by the Xiph.org Foundation, a non-profit software development group with the goal of ‘protecting essential tenets of Internet multimedia from corporate hostage-taking’.
Xiph.org is also the home of the popular Icecast streaming media server, as well as many other important open source projects, indeed they believe ‘Open Source is the net’s greatest tool to keep everyone honest’. The Ogg Project will eventually include other codecs, like Tarkin (for video) and Squish (for lossless audio). At the moment though, OggVorbis is the only functional part of the Ogg project .
Free Software & Open Source
Free Software refers to software distributed in source form which can be freely modified and redistributed, or freely modifiable and redistributable software. It does not refers to zero-cost software. “Open Source” also refers to source code free to modify and to reuse, however there are many debates about these definitions once profit motives and control of the software comes into it. Either way, a community of developers collaborate and use their combined skills to develop software with these methods.
Did Someone Say Ogg Vorbis?
Ogg Vorbis is a completely open, patent-free, professional audio encoding and streaming
technology, developed with Open Source. Vorbis is the name for the specific audio compression scheme used to create OggVorbis files. Vorbis files have the extension .ogg.
Ogg Vorbis unlike MP3 and other formats is truly an open standard. MP3 relies on a patented compression algorithm, its German owners Fraunhofer, sending a now famous letter in 1998 claiming royalty payments on several MP3 encoders. More recently they have stepped forward again claiming (their right) to royalties from streaming MP3s and royalties from musicians selling MP3s. Enter the Star Trek fans.
MP3 is what is known as a “lossy” format. Thus, much of the sound data is removed when MP3 files are created. This results in a file with inferior sound quality to a CD. Vorbis is also a “lossy” format, but uses superior acoustic models to reduce the damage. Thus, music released in Vorbis will sound better than a comparably sized MP3 file.
Vorbis Audio Quality
Vorbis sounds much better than mp3. Two files encoded at the same bitrate, will always be the same size, if they are both encoded with constant bitrate. Vorbis encodes files in variable bitrate which can produce smaller files with better quality, since it doesn’t have to waste data for audio that is easy to encode. The current Vorbis encoder also supports much wider encoder bitrates than mp3 encoders: 64-500kbps stereo and 32-256kbps mono (at 44.1kHz sampling rate).
Streams of Vorbis
While it sounds like a cheap sci-fi novel, streaming is also an important component of Vorbis. The format has been designed from the ground-up to be easily streamable, the designers working alongside Icecast streaming media to make Icecast Vorbis-compatible. Streaming Ogg files from the web will be supported by the player plugins at the 1.0 Vorbis release.
Players & Encoders
Wide variety available. Download a player / encoder for Ogg Vorbis files, or a plugin for a player you already have. eg Winamp, Sound Forge, Windows Media Player etc
Ogg Vorbis Futures
To it’s credit, Vorbis already sounds like the product of some phutcha pharmacy, but does it really have a future given the spread of mp3s, and the billion dollar corporate interests in Microsoft, RealNetworks and other proprietary digital audio standards? Linux advocates would think so, and who knows what might happen in a shapeshifting cyber-year? If they keep improving quality and reducing file size, who’s to say they won’t nab the market?
Worth a click if only to check out their wonderful corporate logos featuring creatures from other worlds.
This site presents alot of good history and links about free software and open source, though nothing on recent debates between the two camps.
MP3s ‘R’ Evil
And you thought Bert was evil. Bit evangelstic mayb, but interesting articleanyway: about computers and content creation, copyright, music and your good self.