The FezGuys
Mp3PRO - Taking The World By Donkey*
[ No. 59 - September 2001 ]

MP3-encoded audio files are wonderful for (among other things) ease of use and tiny file size. The industry shaking popularity (and unexpected uses the technology was put to) was an eye-opener to the beautiful eggheads who created it and the self-aggrandizing content controllers alike. Now, several years down the road, established media delivery barons think they've found a way to take back control of the MP3 compression scheme. Please welcome the new, new industry sanctioned format: Mp3PRO. Developed by the obscure but doughty Swedish firm Coding Technologies and using original Fraunhofer templates, the Mp3PRO system is an odd, for-profit, next-generation spin-off of the world-conquering MP3 standard. Naturally, Mp3PRO is being marketed as "better" than the current standard, mostly through its ability to compress audio further than standard MP3s ("store 24 albums on a single CD-R"). Say, that's a lot of squishing! Does it work and do we really need it? The FezGuys offer the following enlightenment.

Grafted into a pseudo backwards-compatible format, the proprietary Mp3PRO player and encoder tools do indeed make it possible to create files sounding just as good as the standard MP3s with only half the space. But our research makes clear that playing Mp3PRO files with standard MP3 players results in, you guessed it...worse quality! This is because Mp3PRO technology takes half the space in an audio file to store info that only the new player can read, leaving the other half for the MP3 standard segment. To clarify: a 128kbps Mp3PRO file breaks up into two discrete streams, one containing 64k of standard MP3 and the other 64k of Mp3PRO. This means an Mp3PRO player will only play the first (half-size) portion of a standard MP3 file and (in this simplified example) this obviously results in lower sound quality. It's also undetermined if standard players will play the new Mp3PRO format. So let the next stage in the format wars begin...we look into our crystal FezBall to imagine the arc of this "new, brighter, better" product.

Coding Technologies has wisely partnered with consumer electronics giant Thomson Electronics (owners of RCA and G.E. brands) for patent licensing. After all, if you want to be accepted by the group, make friends with the most popular member. But will the other big manufacturers and software developers follow suit? Unless the majority of players support this technology it is unlikely it'll take off. Remember the Phillips Digital Cassette? The major factor that will prevent player manufacturers from using Mp3PRO will likely be the licenses they'll have to pay. According to London-based The Register <> news web site ("Biting the hand that feeds IT"), Mp3PRO will require 50% higher licensing fees to manufacturers than devices built using the standard MP3 technology.

And what about us rank and file users? Does this new technology really benefit us? Well, no. If you plan on sharing your music with anyone who doesn't currently use Mp3PRO (which, at this point is pretty much everyone you know) we don't recommended using this codec. If audio quality is a sticking point for you, remember this: Mp3PRO and the standard MP3 format is still somewhat lower quality than the advanced audio compression codecs in QuickTime, Windows Media or even RealAudio systems. And what about the time-consuming necessity of re-encoding one's entire library? Think of the hours spent creating a serviceable and useable audio library on our desktop. A lot of work has gone into this stuff. To be told that you have to do it all over again will piss a lot of people off.

Technological innovation is unavoidable and, eventually accepted and even welcomed. But splicing Mp3PRO into MP3 instead of focusing on including it in the next full codec release (be it MP4, or something else) seems like an unnecessary exercise. Innovation for its own sake is pointless. The FezGuys say: "We don't need it." There are other codecs as easy to use that actually sound better. If they're going to throw massive amounts of manpower and capital at creating a new platform for encoding and transferring audio files, we suggest putting it towards a solution with longevity instead of an thinly veiled excuse to generate more licensing revenue. We don't want to sit around screwing with little fixes. Give us our hammer so we can start building. With any luck at all, this "new" Mp3PRO offering die a quick death.

But don't take our word for it, download the demo version yourself at: <,10615,78571,00.html>. It's currently Windows-only (though promises for supporting other formats have been made on the Thomson web site). Check out <> for the features and benefits of a future dead technology.

Letters To The FezGuys

FezGuys - I am a webmaster for the Maple Avenue Fire Department and we are considering streaming radio dispatches (audio only obviously) live at our site - so people can "tune in" and hear when we go out.

Your in depth article about streaming audio from home was very nice in providing me with the information necessary to set this system up in our department, particularly the system requirements. Would you recommend perhaps a dual processor machine and 256 megs of RAM? I would think that the more RAM is a must (especially for more users), but can Shoutcast take advantage of the dual processors and if so, how well will it beef up performance? Thanks a bunch for your help and I appreciated your article. Regards - Richard M. (Maple Avenue Fire Department)

Richard - Glad to hear we've been able to help. Having at least 256MB of RAM is always a good idea these days (especially when you can get it for as little as $60) but you may find you don't need a dual processor in your machine. RAM is like disk space - people tend to use up all of what's available. Having more RAM allows you to have more programs running at the same time without your system performance suffering by having to swap memory to the hard drive (a lot slower). To our knowledge, Shoutcast isn't optimized for dual-processors and unless you are running an OS that takes advantage of dual CPUs (Windows NT or Unix, for example), it definitely wouldn't be worth the extra investment unless you are running some other major functions on the same server. We recommend you dedicate a single-cpu box and use the OS's system performance tools to see how much CPU you are actually using. With MP3 encoding for Shoutcast, you just need enough to do the encoding - having more CPU left over would only allow you to do other things (if you needed to) at the same time without interrupting the stream. Good luck! - The FezGuys

Hi Fez Guys! - I have been reading all your stuff on webmonkey but I can't find the answer to my question and I am hoping you can help me. I have a friend who does voice-over work. He wants me to do a web site for him where you click on the link and it loads Windows Media player and plays a little 10-second audio file. I am hip to html and have done some basic sites for other people but just pix and text. How do I make this happen? I have looked for a site that does what he wants in hopes of gaining some insight but I haven't found any yet. Can you help me? Thanks a bunch! - Megan O.

Hi Megan - This is a pretty simple thing to set up, have no fear! Since you are already familiar with HTML, you should already know that to link to a file, you simply add text into your web page that looks like: <A HREF="file.extension">This is a link</A>. So the basic steps you need to do are: (1) Create the audio file you want people to hear (2) Compress it as desired (3) Upload it to your web site (4) Create any metafiles needed. (5) Link to it. Since you mention Windows Media, we'll assume you are working on the Windows platform.

For step (1), you'll need to get your source audio into the digital domain. You can do this with a variety of programs such as CoolEdit <> or SoundForge <>. See the tutorial at <> for more assistance here.

For step (2) you stated you wanted to use the Windows Media format, which means you'll need the Windows Media encoder to compress your audio file. You can download standalone encoder tools at: <>.

Step (3)-- simply upload the compressed Windows Media file to your web site as you do your HTML through an FTP client.

Step (4)-- If you have access to a Windows Media streaming server, you could create an .asx metafile. See column #4 for more background on metafiles. But since you are working with a short 10-second clip, you won't need a metafile. This is because the compressed audio will be a small enough file for visitors to download quickly, making streaming it unnecessary.

Step (5) link away!

Go to town! - The FezGuys <>

* - with apologies to The Rugburns


About the authors:

Jon Luini is a working technophile, a musician (bass player/singer) with full-blown facility and extensive experience on the Web and no free time. He is a co-founder of IUMA and MediaCast, co-creator of Addicted To Noise, and runs an Internet and music consulting and technology company, Chime Interactive (formerly Evolve Internet Solutions). <>

Allen Whitman is a working musician (bass player/singer/producer) with a keen, real-world interest in the practical use of the Web. Music credits include: The Mermen, "Brine-The Antisurf Soundtrack, biL, Deep Field South, Doormouse, Delectric and Drizzoletto. He has written for the San Francisco Examiner, Wired, EQ, Revolution, Yahoo Internet Life, Prosound News, Surround Professional, Replication News and others. <>

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