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Lossless, Backwards Compatible MP3 Successor Launched

Gordon Kelly

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Lossless, Backwards Compatible MP3 Successor Launched

Half the beauty of the MP3 file format is its age (it was officially named way back in 1995) which means it doesn't support DRM and is completely ubiquitous. That said, we could do with a worthy successor...

To be fair, many have tried - from dismal failures such as Atrac to the still cruelly neglected Ogg - but high quality lossless audio is clearly the future, especially as flash capacities continue to grow at exponential rates. Of course we have suitors, Apple lossless being particularly prominent among them, but what we need is a universal standard and 'MP3HD' seems as good to me as any.

Launched by Thomson this month, the beauty of this new format is its simplicity. MP3HD files have a standard '.mp3' ending and store additional information in the id3 tag meaning that they will happily playback on any MP3 capable device (albeit without the additional sound quality). Furthermore, MP3HD lossless files claim a 100 per cent bit-exact replica of CD content and compress tightly to around 26MB for a typical four minute rock track. That means lossless albums tend to weigh in at between 250MB - 300MB, a perfectly manageable size.

Now the problem for MP3HD is the usual one: support. Until the major players like Apple, Sony, Samsung, SanDisk etc endorse the format then it's going nowhere. Furthermore, MP3HD isn't open with Thompson charging royalty rates of 75 cents per PC software/hardware decoder and $2.50 to $5 for the codec.

The potential of MP3HD is there for all to see but ultimately will we have a contender or just another MP3PRO...?

Link:

MP3HD

ChaosDefinesOrder

March 23, 2009, 4:05 am

I'm still completely and utterly at a loss why music player manufacturers don't use FLAC, especially given that the first letter of the acronym is "Free"





Even if most of the customers won't use it, it costs them nothing at all to implement it! (I've had this rant before on TR, sorry for repeating myself!)

Ohmz

March 23, 2009, 5:25 am

"I'm still completely and utterly at a loss why music player manufacturers don't use FLAC, especially given that the first letter of the acronym is "Free""





I've wondered that too, I can understand why Apple did it for so long, DRM'd iTunes. But now...

MPR

March 23, 2009, 11:45 am

I'd rather there was a war against dynamic compression than a war against bitrate compression. I can't tell the difference between a 192Kbps MP3 and the original CD (so long as care an attention is given at the encoding stage). I can tell the difference between a highly dynamically compressed piece of music and one which is not. Since dynamic compression is mastered into the track, there's no fix for it.

basicasic

March 23, 2009, 1:31 pm

On The Gadget Show last week they blind tested MP3 (at 320kbs bitrate),CD and vinyl using high end audio kit in a theatre. Both presenters picked MP3 as the best. CD was 2nd and vinyl 3rd. Amazing.





So this seems an answer to a problem that doesn't really exist, except perhaps in peoples minds.

Ed

March 23, 2009, 1:33 pm

@MPR





Although I'm with you on the dynamic compression thing, to say you can't tell the difference between a 192Kbps mp3 and the CD does rather dilute your point. Dynamic compression is also only a problem for a very limited selection of musical genres. Anything pop/rock/dance/RnB/etc is fine.

Martin Daler

March 23, 2009, 1:50 pm

@basicasic


Odd that, I wonder which was the original source for the MP3 - the CD or the vinyl?

pwackert

March 23, 2009, 2:17 pm

I not sure I really get the point of this format. If MP3HD is 26mb per 4min, and a standard .Wav is 40mb per 4 min, you might as well just use .wav. At least with mp3s (roughly 4mb - 128kb, and 9mb 320kbs per 4mins) you had upto a 10x space save.





Over the next 5 years or so, as storage capacity on music players/PC's gets bigger and bigger, we're gonna start getting to the point where a tracks "compression rate" or whether it's "lossless" or not won't really matter.

basicasic

March 23, 2009, 2:40 pm

@Martin - the 2003 remastered version of Pink Floyd's 'Money' was the original source for all 3 formats. http://fwd.five.tv/videos/soun...

Martin Daler

March 23, 2009, 3:40 pm

@basicasic


Thanks, I looked at the show. Typical of the media hacks - a totally random, meaningless result dressed up a "news". When will they ever learn about stastical significance? When will they understand about repeatable results? Still, as long as its entertainment, who cares, right?

Keithe6e

March 23, 2009, 3:45 pm

Will it succeed?





>> with Thompson charging royalty rates of 75 cents per PC software/hardware decoder and $2.50 to $5 for the codec.





Hahaha,, nearly fell of my chair.. I've a gut feeling MP3HD is going nowhere..

Keithe6e

March 23, 2009, 3:53 pm

@pwackert - I not sure I really get the point of this format. If MP3HD is 26mb per 4min, and a standard .Wav is 40mb per 4 min,





I assume you talking about encoding a CD here, CD isn't exactly HD. It's of course for encoding much higher quality than 16bit 44100 Hz.

Gnormie

March 23, 2009, 3:56 pm

@basicasic


The problem with that test (the same one with all of the gadget shows bias 'tests') is that they all own iPods - and given such time with a product people invariably get 'used' to the sound signature and believe it to be the best (which is why many people still think vinyl sounds best because that was their media source for 10 years+). The fact is that a decent CD source will obliterate any .mp3 bitrate in music quality (quality being as close to the original recording as possible).





Personally I hope the format fails, seriously we have 2 good FREE codecs in .OGG and .FLAC we don't need more to crowd a market or produce a new standard that companies have to pay royalties for as all that will do is increase the cost of the players.

padrikas

March 23, 2009, 4:04 pm

I am sticking with OGG and FLAC thank you very much

pwackert

March 23, 2009, 4:53 pm

@Keith - I agree 16bit 44100hz isn't exactly HD, though most people currently listen to all types of music at this rate or below. (I record at at least 24bit 96khz). This article and the Linked article only talk about "100% bit-exact replica of CD tracks" which are at 16bit 44.1khz, hence my comparison. No Mention of above this rate support as i can find....

Keithe6e

March 23, 2009, 5:56 pm

@Gnormi: The fact is that a decent CD source will obliterate any .mp3 bitrate





Remember CD is digital too, with a current sampling rate of 44.1 kHz, even the current MP3 standard has 48 kHz, put OGG and Flac into the picture and these sampling rates are blown into the ground, of course you need to make sure you bitrate is up to scratch too, most people beleive 256 to be identical to CD quality so the extra in the 320 could be used for 48 kHz encoding, so if Gadget show had a 320 bitrate 48 kHz, then there is a very good chance it was better.

Keithe6e

March 23, 2009, 6:10 pm

@pwackert, I see your point. But to me HD stands for Higher Definition, so in this case you would expect that to be also in the Sampling Rate, I'm not sure of what specification MP3 HD can go, I would assume higher than 48 kHz at least. I'm assuming the CD comparison was only meant to show the compression achieved as lossless bitrate, that in itself is not impressive even Apple's lossless achieves about the 50% rate.

Tim Dickinson

March 23, 2009, 7:11 pm

FLAC is actually pretty well supported, but Apple has decided it doesn't wan it on iPods as it doesn't want it to compete with its Apple Lossless. Could you not get a FLAC lossless audio track and an MP3 audio track within a single MP4 container and get roughly the same effect? Most audio players can already read mp4 (m4a), so with a few tweaks this could easily be possible. I would prefer .mkv, but that would be less backward compatible.





Another proprietary format - no thank you. MP3 caught on because it had no DRM and was the best format available (size v quality) when MP3 downloading took off in a major way with the birth of Napster. Because most people have their music library on their computers as MP3s, and it is still pretty much the only format that works across all mp3 players.

Tony Walker

March 23, 2009, 9:37 pm

MP3s only caught on because initially the royalty wasn't being collected and it was getting used basically as a free codec. Thomson then retrospectively started collecting the royalties.





MP3-HD won't stand a chance if it is being charged for upfront.

Tony Walker

March 23, 2009, 10:02 pm

Regarding that Gadget Show test.





They must've been using a Bush turntable or something equally cheap and nasty. A &#163250 turntable will blow a &#163250 CD player out of the water with sound fidelity, and I believe from friends and fellow audiophiles with deeper pockets (say Linn) that carries on up the line. Mine's a Pro-ject Debut II.





I can see a studio crafted 320kbit MP3 (was it MP3Pro) beating the CD as lossy audio can work excellently - the Minidisc being the shining example. I was a huge sceptic 'till I actually heard a studio recorded Minidisc.

Jay4d0

March 24, 2009, 12:42 am

The Gadget Show used full 320kbs mp3





Also they have just recommended this site on their show :D

Mike Owen

March 29, 2009, 2:37 pm

@Tim Dickinson





"Apple has decided it doesn't wan it on iPods as it doesn't want it to compete with its Apple Lossless."





I have seen zero promotion of Apple Lossless on Apple's part, so I find it hard to believe they are concerned about competition from FLAC. They don't even enable Quicktime's True VBR for iTunes so it's doubtful they have any plans for a big lossless push in the future. The fact is the majority of people I know have no idea what FLAC is, and those that do don't use it either because they can't be arsed to or they don't know how (or can't with their iPod). The last time I met someone with something other than an iPod was about 3 years ago.

Neil B

March 29, 2009, 10:10 pm

@Mike





"The last time I met someone with something other than an iPod was about 3 years ago"





I have never owned an apple product and probably never will. My mp3 player supports both OGG and FLAC but I must admit I use neither due to the fact that they're not universally supported. I don't want to have more than one copy of the same track so that I can play it on my phone/car/toaster...

Geoff Richards

March 30, 2009, 1:32 am

I don't mean to start a war here, just provide some balance. I have never owned an iPod anything, and don't have any plans to either (though the non-music abilities of the touch do have some appeal).





Sure, iPods are extremely popular, but other MP3 players do exist, and their owners are not a poor underclass. Some of us are doing it by choice :)

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