MP3 Pro: Same Great Sound, Same Great Taste...But Half The Size

CNet has a story about the battle to come up with the next-generation file format to replace the enormously popular MP3 music endoding format on the web. MP3 is all-dominating right now, but is no longer cutting-edge when it comes to efficiency, and may soon be replaced with formats offering the same quality for half the file size, meaning half the download time, and half the space in the memory of music-playing devices.

As you may or may not be aware, current programs which encode music into MP3 have to pay licencing fees to Thomson Multimedia which owns the format. (Which also must mean that Apple is taking a substancial loss upon themselves in order to be able to give us the free new app iTunes.) So it should come as little surprise that Thomson Multimedia wants to ensure that their format stays the dominating one. So they are working on a compatible format, MP3 Pro.

Quotes from the story:

MP3Pro is being developed by Coding Technologies, a spinoff of the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits, which shares patent rights to the MP3 format with Thomson. Thomson and Fraunhofer charge licensing fees for the use of MP3, and with MP3Pro the companies may be looking to create a format compelling enough for music distributors to buy.

With MP3Pro, Thomson is challenging competitors such as Microsoft and RealNetworks, which have released formats that some industry analysts say are superior to Thomsonis current MP3 format. Microsoftis Windows Media format already offers a 64 kbps encoding rate and is positioned to create the most serious challenge to MP3 to date.

In addition to pioneering a lower bit rate, Microsoft technology supports anti-copying features that has made it a leading choice among record labels gearing up for commercial online distribution plans. The MP3 format does not support encryption or other digital rights management features.

In November, Warner Music Group struck a deal to use Microsoftis Windows Media as its primary format for commercial audio downloads over the next three years. In addition, three of the four other major record labels--Bertelsmannis BMG Entertainment, Sony Music Group and EMI Recorded Music--use Windows Media.

The formats may face other competition. Irritated that widely used technologies come with strings attached, Open-source programmers are creating MP3-compatible formats to offer Webcasters and Web music developers a license-free alternative.

Internet standards groups also are working on a next-generation audio and video format, MPEG-4, which would ostensibly replace MP3 down the road.

It is clear that with Microsoft already making serious inroads, MP3 is facing quite a battle. And one thing should occur to Mac users: If Windows Media Player becomes the standard music player, guess who is left up sheep creek without a paddle again?

You can find the full story at the CNet web site.