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Cringley predicts Microsoft Audio will triumph 252

Chris Siegler writes "Cringley's latest pulpit predicts that Microsoft Audio will prevail over Real/IBM in the fight for distribution of music on the web. MS Audio 4.0 encoding results in smaller files than MP3 by half, with the same quality. Read the full article over here. " What do you folks think? Yea? RA's installed base is pretty darn huge-but only MS can compete with that.
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Cringley predicts Microsoft Audio will triumph

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    I am a little tired of how often people get MPEG nomenclature wrong. Isn't cringley supposed to "get it"?

    He calls MP3 "MPEG Level 3" when in fact it is MPEG 1, Layer 3.

    He then says that MPEG Level 4 is coming, but that too is misleading. MPEG-2 audio AAC is already much better than MP3 in sound quality/compression.

    And MPEG-4 Structured Audio won't actually improve sound quality compared to MPEG-2 AAC (it in fact incorporates it in the standard). MP4 adds audio objects, more or less like MIDI tracks along with as many MP-2 AAC audio tracks as you wish.


  • by Anonymous Coward
    Most of the word had WordPerfect and tons of WP documents 5-6 years ago.

    That didn't slow down Microsoft at all.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Not only can anyone make MP3's, but much more importantly the artists themselves can now easily make high-quality files and distribute them to a worldwide audience via the Internet. Add mail-order CD distribution and what do you have?

    A record industry with little need for giant music companies. Of course, PR, touring, etc. will still need large institutions to run, but all of the A&R people and fat cat executives will be rendered worthless in the coming years. The recording industry will NOT SURVIVE the Internet in its current form. RIAA and the corporations understand this. This is why they're battling against MP3 so hard.

    A given band may not reach quite the popularity that they otherwise might in today's wretched system under the new rules, but they'll probably make more money since they'll be able to keep the lion's share of their album profits, which currently go elsewhere. More bands making a living == more diverse music and more of it.

    Remember - the current music industry is extremely anomalous compared with the rest of human history. Before the 20's or so, there were no real means of recording music (player pianos aside). This is all uncharted territory, but a revolution that puts the artists in control of their material and in closer contact with their fans is ultimately a positive thing.

    Anon. coward who should get around to creating an account.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    One point missed in the editorial was the recent history of copyright.

    Does anyone remember what the cable TV industry did about their copyright violation problems?

    As R.X.C. pointed out, a copyright allows the "owner" to protect their property. But that does not come with out major expense. The cable industry would have had to track down each violator, gather evidence sufficient to bring a court case agents the violator. Then, if the case was won, the only amount that could be garnered was the amount of money provably lost. i.e. if they can prove that someone stole cable for 4 months, then that person would have to pay for 4 months of cable and court cost, but they could not charge for their out of pocket expenses of tracking down the violator. This would have to be done on a case by case basis. Positively too expensive to actually implement, and totally a money losing proposition for the cable industry.

    So, the cable industry lobbied congress. And congress made a single exception in the copyright law. They made it a federal offense to steal cable. Now, your tax dollars are used to track violators, gather evidence, bring them to court. And the penalties are much greater, including possible jail time.

    This is not fair because it applies to only one type of copyright -- cable. Not to books, not to software (more on this in a sec.), not to anything else. Just cable.

    Later, this precedence was extended by the video industry. It became a federal offense to copy a rental movie.

    Further, Bill Gates also lobbied congress and using these two precedences, and got it to be a federal offense to copy software. (This is only one of the reasons I'm very involved with Linux and the FSF.)

    MP3s won't go away, just like cable piracy didn't go away just because it was copyrighted. So, I predict that the recording industry will do the same. They will make it a federal offense to put those MP3s on the net and the FBI will hunt you down!
  • by drwiii ( 434 )
    You *are* talking about MS Audio *4.0* right?

    The version given in the encoder is:

  • by drwiii ( 434 ) on Friday April 16, 1999 @08:15AM (#1930396)
    MS Audio 4.0 encoding results in smaller files than MP3 by half, with the same quality.

    No it doesn't. I've encoded samples in both. M$ comes out almost 100K fatter than MP3 when encoded on the same bitrate settings. The smaller file size you're seeing in M$ propaganda is referring to their FM Audio codec, which, while not the quality of MP3, still gets some pretty impressive numbers. For them to try to transparently compare their FM Audio codec to "CD" Quality MP3 is sneaky, and very Microsoftian of them.

    Here we have a sample 7 minute 27 second song. If you encode using 128kbps on both encoders, MP3 pans out at 7,164,784 while M$ pans out at 7,258,922.

    M$'s "32kbps, 44 kHz, stereo" codec (tagged as "FM Audio") smashes the size down to 1.76 MB. The sound is still pretty impressive for that size (remember, this is a 7 minute 27 second song), though it does sound like a low-quality cassette tape recording.

    Conclusion: M$ will make new breakthroughs on streaming over low-speed dialup type connections (watch out, RealAudio), but for high quality audio, MP3 is safe for the time being.

  • To the best of my knowledge, all of the compressed audio formats are proprietary. Read Audio is proprietary, Microsoft's is proprietary, MP3 is proprietary. (I don't know about some of the other MPEG compression schemes). Now it may be true that the MP3 file format is published and that anyone can write a decoder for it, but last I checked there is no way to write an encoder for MP3 without infringing on patents. This makes the format proprietary and thus prohibits a truly free software implementation of it.

    If the MS format is as good as they claim (which I doubt) and we can find out the format and algorithm and there are no patents on it, then the MS format might actually be a good choice. So long as we can get a free implementation of it.

    We need a compressed audio version of gzip. It starts the migration towards a free format, but has decoder support for existing MP3's and thus is backward compatible.
  • The anti-copying features don't have to do much. Even a simple one would be enough to trigger the federal law on "circumvention" of a security mechanism and subject the violator to 5 years in prison. Under normal copyright law, only civil penalties would have applied in most cases.
  • Let me clarify. I'm not suggesting we use gzip to compress audio. I'm saying we a program that does for audio compression what gzip did for file compression. That is, it should work to read files generated under the proprietary MP3 format, but also have it's own native free format as well for which we have free encoders.
  • We need a compressed audio version of gzip

    Problem with this is, 'audio compression' is not really compression per se. It's done by throwing out parts of the audio that the ear is less sensitive to. So what happens is that these companies do research into what they can throw out or what they can keep, then patent doing that. Now this reeks of patenting a discovery, which AFAIK isn't legal, but it's how things work.

    The only way around this that I can see is taking advantage of the fact that the basic concept has been understood for decades. Using 'old knowledge' and implementing it with standard filtering techniques should keep clear of patents and get you file size reduction, but I'm not at all sure that the quality/size ratio would be good enough to make people want to use it.

    The other thing to keep in mind (as other people have noted) is that this is not a trivial exercise at the research level. Coding it all up might not take long at all, but figuring out what to code could easily take years.

  • I'm not suggesting we use gzip to compress audio.

    Ok, gotcha. I don't know if it's possible though. Thing is, gzip implements an already free format. When Phil Katz came up with it, he expressly put it in the public domain. Therefore, any program can use it.

    The problem with audio 'compression' is that the means of doing it have been patented out the wazoo, which causes problems with other implementations. In as far as compatibility, if it were to happen, you would probably have to have programs that used the free algorithm and also contained an mp3 decoder.

    As time goes on, I'm getting more and more intrigued by the idea of (someone) trying this. It would require a lot of disparate skills, and I don't believe the same filesize/quality ratio as in commercial implementations is possible, but perhaps there is a 'good enough'.

    There would be a lot of obstacles, not the least of which is that it would probably be better to develop in hardware then move it over, but I'm starting to wonder if it isn't at least worth trying. Would be fun, anyway. ;)

  • It's not just Sorenson for the video (that codec that delivers really sharp video but chokes most computers to play back)- there's also audio codecs from Qualcomm which are said to be better than MP3. Of course, I'm not using them for strictly audio, but if I can produce video I'll be using the Quicktime Sorenson and will also use their wizzy audio codecs too. The world is not only Microsoft+MP3/linux/etc. There are other people who can throw money and programmers at a problem besides just the ones in Redmond.
  • I'm a musician. They'll be putting the screws to me for the encoders. 'MS Visual Audio Studio' for $500, anyone? No fscking way am I letting this company be the middleman between me and my audience. They'll bleed me dry given half a chance- even if they _don't_ charge for encoders, do you think there will be one for my Mac? Even if there is one for my Mac, do you think a year will go by without MS perverting the format so that it takes quad PIIIs running NT to compress it and play it back- and then do you think it will stay cross platform?
    I think you get the idea. Sorry, no fscking way, homie don't play that game: I'm with the guys saying 'resist!'. It _amazes_ me how many people are ready and willing to put their heads in a noose for short-term gain. Just say no to selling your future out for a temporary prettyshinything.
  • Well, either you only listen to what MTV tells you to listen to, or you haven't listened to any of the artists at mp3.com. I don't know what type of music you like, but if you're into industrial, there are several industrial artists there that are at least as good as the radio stuff. Sure, there is *lots* of bad stuff out there, but also some very good unsigned bands. Listen to Painted Blue, The Chain Reactive, Revelation 9, or Burn, they're all quite good (IMHO).
  • most people still have winamp or x11amp.

    Winamp v2.11, due to be released in a few days (some people already have it since it was accidentally placed on the FTP server prematurely three days ago), has support for MSAudio 4.0 files, so people with winamp can play them.
  • The problem with RA is that since it's always assuming that you have a 28.8k modem. If the speed gets kicked to ISDN (if you have a cable modem or T1+), the sound is much better.
  • because, Microsoft can force the acceptance of their technology just by including it on every CD shipped. People who have Windows will have no choice but to accept it. Even though Microsoft Audio will be reluctantly accepted, that doesn't mean there wont be MP3 files available; it just means that the Recording Industry is going to attempt to sell you what you can get for free.

    My idea of the future is:
    Artists release MP3's for free, they get very popular, they tour to make money.
  • I imagine it also takes a PIII-450 to play back these files as well. I don't even wanna imagine how long it takes to encode...heh
  • Their latest verion (G2 or whatever?) is win32-only (okay, Mac finally in beta... unix still not in sight).

    Their commitment, then, to being cross-platform's a lot weaker than I'd like it to be.
  • Posted by The Mongolian Barbecue:

    Has anyone made an open standard that offers this kind of compression quality?

  • Posted by christur:

    You know what you're missing?

    Cheap bandwidth. right now.

    Well maybe not you have it, but certainly joe sixpack doesn't have it. Disk is cheap, but you've got to get it there. Yes, cable modems, ADSL, etc are coming, but even Gartner, Zona, etc say it'll be 2002 before it really penetrates.

    Joe sixpack isn't going to wait 20-30 minutes to suck a song through his 28.8 AOL connection - regardless of whether he paid for it or not.

    50% smaller is a lot to joe sixpack.

  • Posted by My_Favorite_Anonymous_Coward:

    I don't understand, how could the consumers accept another format? Mp3's popular because of the bootlegs. Why would any other copyrighted format suvive?

    Nobody (besides geeks) in their right minds want to listen to their state of art music files in the PC. People want portable --which is the only weakness in CD. CD's too big and too short (one hour) The perfect machine to me is that a MD player size box that plays, records, receive AM/FM and has good ui to program the huge song list. The mp3 player of next generation is GOING TO do that, why would anyone else want to try a new format?

    Let me get this straight, you prefer paying 3 dollars to download an audio4.0 Hanson new release in half of the download time of the same mp3 song, rather than getting the song free? Unless you just want to buy one single, nobody will choose download over CD, at lease you can give/lend your CD to your friend. Right?

    Mp3 Low quality is bullshit, get a 256kps mp3 file. Audio4.0/realplayer pay format is exactly like DVIX, now only high end disk player can play both DVIX and DVD, low end disk players only play DVD(mp3).

  • Posted by My_Favorite_Anonymous_Coward:

    On another note, how can anyone think this new format is a good thing for preventing music piracy? One can always convert MP3s to MS Audio (Winamp already does this), and hey, it's even easier to distribute, hence the smaller file sizes! If you convert whatever format to this audio4.0, it will insert a secret ID in it, which can only play on your PC (granded it can play on your registered M$audioMen as well.) Do you really want it? Do you want to register again whenever you drop your MSaudioMen? CY
  • Posted by My_Favorite_Anonymous_Coward:

    Disk is cheap. right now.

    Yes, disk is cheap, but bandwidth isn't. Don't underestimate the appeal of a format that can compress twice as good as MP3, and therefore cuts download time in half.
    You have to pay for it, dude.
  • Posted by My_Favorite_Anonymous_Coward:

    Unfortunately, until everyone gets cable modems or DSL or whatever companies are promising to bring, mp3's will still take quite a bit of time to download.

    And even if everyone had cable modems, think of problems associated with cutting into the Internet bandwidth. Man, it'll still be slow.

    If everyone has cable modem, people will start to attach low quality "Seifeld" on email, I honest believe it.

  • Posted by Threell:

    They think i will start paying for songs i download for the net just because i will download this microsoft format which is smaller and of similar quality...
    they must be idiots...
  • Posted by My_Favorite_Anonymous_Coward:

    I alreadly prefer the MS Media player over Real. Not becuase it's free, but because I get better sound quality at 56k (mostly 44k) dial up. I got suckered by Real into buying the "Plus" version thinking I was going to get better quality (twice I've done this). Stupid me. Never again.

    Are you serious?!? Real Player is free, the plus has the additional feature of recording. Now tell me, can win media player record? Being a sucker doesn't make Real worst than Window.

  • On first listen, it was easy to hear the difference between the "optimised" MS Audio clips at 56kbps, with the compression that you hear on FM radio, and at 160kbps, where they pretty much approximate MP3 in both size and quality.

    And I'm glad to say that after three years of listening to high-bitrate MP3/AAC tracks, I'm in no hurry to make the quality trade-off. And I'm sure that I'm not the only one.

    RealAudio, on the other hand, is in trouble.
  • After three years of listening to high-bitrate MP3/AAC tracks, I'm in no hurry to make the quality trade-off that MS Audio offers. And I'm sure that I'm not the only one.

    RealAudio, on the other hand, is in trouble.
  • All we have here is a competing streaming format; if over-the-web radio takes off, it will be via some future version of RealAudio, MSAudio, or both (and I'm really pissed that Real and MS seem to be lying through their teeth about Unix clients coming RSN). I downloaded an MSAudio'd Kristin Hersh song and was impressed by its half-of-MP3 file size ("is it MPEG-4?", I thought), but then noticed it was 64 kbps -- i.e. there's no difference in size compared to a 64 kbps MP3. Plus the sound quality was no improvement.

    The future lies in better-than-CD (24 bit, 96 kHz, for example) audio, not some deft simulation of "CD-quality". RealAudio, MSAudio, and MP3 are good promotional tools for now, that's all. And as long as the only flavors of downloads tend to be Vanilla, French Vanilla, Super Vanilla, and Vanilla 2000, the revolution will not be streamed or downloaded. I wouldn't pay a dime for a scoop of this.


  • In the end the format I uses will be my choice. If no one else make the same choices as me that is fine. It is nice when people agree with you but it isn't necessary.

    Many of your choices are limited to what people put on their server. In the radio realm, a Toronto station just switched from RA5.0 to WMP (still serving an RA stream, I think, but un-Linux-able now); I wrote them two or three days ago, and this little irony was mentioned. They haven't replied, nor do I think they will. Yes, I was extremely polite.

    For just ripping-and-archiving your CDs, the file format is up to you, but if sites (large and small) end up signing on to MS-only (and maybe Mac as well) solutions, I'm locked out when it comes to listening to other peoples' music (or talk shows, or news broadcasts, or football matches, etc). What about the openness and platform-agnosticism of the Net?


  • Wrong! artists can now make more money than ever off of live performances, television broadcasts, merchandising, advertising tie-ins.

    Only 0.01% of artists can make more than chump change this way.

    The only revenue stream that is affected is records sales, of which 90% of profit goes to record company anyway.

    Not all record companies are crooks; not all companies are parts of giant conglomerates. What about the thousands of indies out there? Either way, that revenue stream is shared with the artist, some times quite fairly as well. If artists and companies feel they have to take steps to defend that revenue stream, I respect that, even if I don't always agree.

    Furthermore, for lesser-know bands, CD sales are increased, not decreased, by widely available "try it for free" music from those artists. The only thing MP3 kills is the monopoly the big record companies and radio media conglomerates have enjoyed in deciding who will and will not be successful.

    In an ideal world, this would be true; the infrastructure isn't quite there yet. The corporations still rule, for the most part. It may work for some early-adopters now, but I've yet to see some huge Net-only success story; of course, I haven't been looking all that hard.

    Remember, these are the same people that gave us the Spice Girls!

    And traditionally, the giant profits that a Spice Girls recording generates will embolden a corporation to use some of the money to subsidize recordings that are orders of magnitude more cool and daring than the Spices. If you own a major-label CD by some cool band that hasn't sold eleventy-jillion (or even 50,000) CDs, chances are that their portion of the catalog has been subsidized (in part) by the profits derived from selling chart-topping crap.

    Excuse me, but what kind of moron buys something they already own? If I own the CD, I can legally make recordings in any audio format I damn well please, why the hell would I PAY for somebody else to compress the audio, when I can do it myself for free?

    A legitmate technical shift will get listeners to buy what they already own. People have replaced old vinyl recordings with the same music (often with bonus tracks) on CD; people will, in the future, do the same when a better-than-CD medium comes along. But the MiniDisc, MP3, and all the other current file formats are not the killer-app sort of technical shift that will induce us to buy something we already own. Sony, Real, and MS are -- to some extent -- Fighting The Last War here; I'm not sure whether or not this is all a bit overhyped. Just a turf war, nothing to see here...


  • With the growing popularity of Linux, and the resurgence of the Mac, I rather doubt that a Windows-only solution will triumph over the cross-platform RealPlayer.
  • ...they claim to have the UNIX G2 player in development. And it will work with Linux 2.2.x!
  • Is it me or is it getting harder to read Pulpit stories. I don't like it when people predict the future.... They ruin the story for the rest of us.
  • Gee, I haven't much hoopla about ActiveX lately
    yet Java is still going strong.

    PNG is supposedly better than GIF and JPG, yet
    still the web is dominated by GIF images.

    Even if M$ throws all it's R&D into a proven
    better format, Real and MP3 have too strong a
    foothold to push aside.
  • My point is better formats don't always win,
    regardless of where they came from.

    My point about ActiveX is Microsoft can't shove
    another technology aside just by flooding the market with hype about it's own competing

  • I've never been pleased with Real Audio. I can run it full out over a T1, with correct program settings and all, and even on higher bitrate streams it just doesn't seem as crisp as streaming MP3s. This was also an old version of the Linux Real Audio player, probably version 5 or so (I don't know what version may be available now). The format is just another proprietary scheme with a single... "lacking" player implementation. I can't even encode the material--why would I want to use it?

    Streaming audio:
    mpg123 http://www.server.com:7000/

  • Egad -- this is very misleading! 128 kbps is a data rate. For a given length song, the size of the resulting file is a constant, plus/minus overhead. For your sample 7 minute 27 second song, 128 kbps encoding gives a resultant file size of 7152 Kbytes, which is basically the result you got.

    Your fallacy is in concluding that two algorithms using the same bitrate sound the same. You can record a plain wav file at 128 kbps. It'll just be mono 8-bit, 16 Hz, and will sound crummy. You just can't use numbers to compare audio quality at the same bitrate. You have to do double-blind testing.

    There is a possibility that the MS 128 kbps codec sounds better than MP3. Than it is a better algorithm. I agree that the "half-size" claim is almost surely false, but that does not mean that they don't have a better scheme.
  • by pb ( 1020 )
    There's already a format that sounds like a 128Kb/s mp3 at 80Kb/s. It's called .VQF, and it was released by Yamaha, who was using technology from the not-quite-released MP4's, (mpeg 1 layer 4) which has more ugly licensing issues.

    I wonder where Microsoft stole this technology...
  • Heh. A watermark on sound.

    Maybe you'll see it in your winamp plug-ins. :)
  • Since MS owns all the major media producers, their victory is ensured. Remember when MS bought CNN and CNN switched to ASX for most of its audio streams. Since MS bought NBC, MSNBC of course serves only ASX streams.

    All is not lost, however, since all of MS's audio codecs are really derivatives of mp3.
  • In a -very- informal test, according to Windows task manager, Winamp 2.10 playing back a mp3 takes approximately 17% of the CPU, Windows Media Player takes approximately 22% of the CPU. Winamp was playing the .mp3 version of a song, Windows Media Player was playing the same song, converted to a .asf file (same bitrate) with the supplied encoder. When Windows Media Player was playing back the original mp3 file, it used 19-20% of the CPU, so it appears the decoding horsepower required by the .asf decompression process (at least for the Windows Media Player implementation) is slightly higher than for mp3 decoding.

    This was on a K-6 233MHz, 128MB of RAM, Windows NT 4.0SP4.
  • I'm not going to run Windows just so I can buy
    music online. As long as I have an encoder (and so does every other non-Win32 user) It won't matter because anyone can encode. With Microsoft you lose that ability.

    Finally, it's not like they can outlaw MP3 encoders, I doubt the commercial MP3 companies would stand for that.

    They couldn't outlaw CD-R, and floppy disks, after all :)
  • If they make the best stuff, then why not use it?

    In this case(transportable digital audio), the best stuff is defined by smallest file size at a given audio quality level. There are other factors that *might* affect the quality rating such as memory or processor needs of the decoder, but these days, almost anyone has enough cpu and ram to handle just about any 2 channel audio imaginable.
  • Microsoft's codecs may be more efficient than MP3, but how difficult is it to compress audio in that format? I am guessing that it takes quite a bit of computing power to encode. Does it work well for all types of music? MP3s currently sound pretty good on a computer system, but I am told that the flaws in the format become pretty visible when the MP3 is played on a good stereo. I am assumming that the new format has the same problems.
    We should be keeping our ears open for truly high fidelity formats, like DVD-Audio, not tuning them to "enjoy" sub CD-quality music. DVD-RAM audio-- no that would be something.
  • > 4. Create a legal atmosphere where
    > artists/rights owners get kick backs based on
    > the amount of airplay their songs get. (Once or > twice a year, radio stations send playlists
    > back to a few writers groups to get money for
    > how much their artists are played.)

    Already in practice where I come from.
    In my homecountry of Iceland there is an organization formed by artists themselves and record companies. It collaborates with the radio board. Every month or so all radio stations send a list of songs played to this org. The org. then does some math and calculates how much each artist should be paid. The radio stations then pay the org. which then pays the artists for their airtime.
    IF the radiostations don't pay their dues they will be shut down or prohibited from playing music as a result.

  • If you want to see a real competitor to MP3, check out the QDesign Music Codec. It's bundled with QuickTime 3, so you'll need access to a Mac or Windows box (or VMware :) to check it out. Then go to www.qdesign.com and listen to some of the samples in the listening room. At 24kbps (small enough for real-time streaming over a 28.8 modem!), it actually delivers reasonably listenable music. I was very impressed.

    On the downside, besides the lack of a Linux version, there's no provision for live encoding (as RealAudio offers for realtime encoding of radio stations, etc.) and apparently the encoder is extremely CPU intensive. Also, there aren't any feature-rich players for the format (with playlists, EQ, skins, etc.) as there are for MP3.

    Even with these limitations, if you want to see the real state of the art, not MS second-rate garbage, check out QDesign.

  • The MS format is a little smaller. Whoopee. Small price to pay for a lot more freedom. Like I said, disk is cheap.

    Yes, but bandwidth isn't, and that's the real issue here. If it takes half the time to download, them MP3, RealAudio etc. don't stand a chance, cross-platform or not. Sure, you or I will still be able to encode and play back CDs, but we probably won't be able to download music from the net, and there may well come a time when music is only available in downloadable form. CDs may well not exist in the not too distant future.

  • ...if you have to pay for MS Audio then it still doesn't stand a chance.

    That's a big if. I can't see M$ doing anything other than releasing a zero-cost client. Yes, they'll charge vast amounts for the streaming server, and probably the basic encoder too, but if the public have a free client, they'll start demanding that people supply audio in that format, given it's apparent (in their eyes) superiority. It worked for RealAudio, I have no doubt it'll work just as well for M$ (at the expense of the rest of us).

  • So, I'm looking at Rasterman's esound daemon here, and it has two commands called esddsp and esdmon. The first command, esddsp, lets you route any audio playback application to an esound daemon. The second command, esdmon, dumps the esound output to standard output. So that right there is one way to circumvent any copy protection. kinesis pointed out another way: hook one sound card's digital out to another's digital in. Anti-circumvention law or not, both esound and sound cards have legitimate other uses. It would be impossible to outlaw esound or sound cards without inciting mass revolt. In sum, yes, you are absolutely right, no form of copy protection can ever enforce the restrictions the record companies would like to enforce, unless the copy protection is so severe that it completely prevents the file from being played as audible sound at all.
  • ...and everybody would jump at it.
  • Antitrust suit remedies must include keeping MS out of these emerging markets.
  • There's some confusion about bit rates as expressed in this post. If you *tell* the encoder to work at 128kbps then *no matter what encoder you use* it will take up the same amout of space. ie by telling the compressor what the bit rate is, you are actually *specifying* what the resultant file size is.
    The line "smaller files than MP3 by half, with the same quality" means that you could encode using MS Audio at 64kbps and get the same quality as an mp3 at 128kbps.
  • Since when did he say it was? His point wasn't that both types of replacement technologies were owned by Microsoft, but that two technologies that were supposed to replace some other technology haven't yet caught on. ActiveX was supposed to supplant Java and, as you said, PNG was to supplant GIF. His point is that neither of these things has happened yet.

    PNG support is spotty. According to the spec it is superior, but no one has implemented the spec entirely that I know of. The GIF decoder isn't the issue, but the LZW compression encoder is.
  • I think the Melissa virus proves that you could get slammed for using a Microsoft proprietary system.

    The Melissa virus proves that security holes can exist in pieces of software. It's just a newer version of the Internet Worm, and I don't remember any MS ware being involved in that.

    I think ultimately the real solution will be for some enterprising young matematicians to work out a GPLed equation for compressing audio and video. I think when that happens not only will the market be totally broke, but free software might win a huge battle.

    Yes, it'd be nice. It's also very unlikely to happen, considering that most new codecs that appear are incredibly complex things, requiring masses of brainpower and development time and money. I keep seeing Slashdot comments about proprietary codecs that say "Well, let's just do a better one and GPL it," like it's a matter of getting 3 or 4 good coders on a mailing list and hashing it out in a month or so, in the style of most open-source projects. It's just not going to happen that way. The best chances of a world-beating free codec come from academia, but with all the commercial funding and brain-draining that goes on I wouldn't be surprised if we never see one.

  • Cringely seems to infer that bands will be cast into anonymity and desitution once record sales fall below the support level of the distribution network. Is that really true?

    What if music really was free? There would still be radio, IP or RF based, and therefore there would still be popular bands. And *live shows*.

    That's the ticket: live shows. Live shows could still get 60,000 people to pay $20 a head for nice $12 million per event, even if noone payed a dime for the album. Not bad.

    Imagine a world where thousands of bands distributed their tunes *freely*. There would be countless numbers of bands with web sites that distribute their music. There would probably be paid employees of "popular music" web sites (and radio stations) that would scour the web for new music, as well as handle new releases for known popluar bands. I see mp3.com heading full-a-stern in this direction.

    And of course, just like now, the best of the best would still make millions from their live shows and drive around in Maseratis (at 185) and eat green M&Ms.

    Unfortunately, I don't see this world coming soon. Perhaps the continued work of the MP3 pirates can help bring this world to fruition. I *don't* see how MS Audio can help.

    There are still intellectual property rights to be worked out, even if music is free. For example, if I cover a song that was written by another band, I should probably pay them a royalty. Perhaps this could be treated like patents: after 17 years, all music would be royalty free.
  • by Bwah ( 3970 )
  • As a consumer why do I care about any proposed "standard" ??

    I have mp3. Right now.

    I have aac. right now.

    They work. right now.

    Disk is cheap. right now.

    Do you see a theme here? :-) My point is that I don't really care what the music industry and microsoft do, and I don't think that many other average digital music consumers will either. The MS format is a little smaller. Whoopee. Small price to pay for a lot more freedom. Like I said, disk is cheap.


  • [...]a virtualized soundcard driver will let you get at the data anyway.

    Won't there be a watermark?

  • A new type of crime: Audio laundering.
  • Not only that, but take a look at the filesizes. The MS Audio format at equivilent bitrate is larger (albeit not by much).

    I listened to the samples (all at the same bitrate) as well as the original .wav and he's dead on right, the MP3 does sound crisper and reproduces the stereo effect better.

    Listening to the MS Audio 64k rate (which is indeed 1/2 the size of a MP3 at 128k) is literally painful.

  • No matter what technology is used, the only way to control copying via watermarking or encryption is to take away the consumer's anonymity. This tactic will fail in a number of ways.

    First, watermarking only works if the listener's ID is added every time a track is purchased. CD's don't offer this functionality. It will always be possible to walk into a CD store, pay cash, and get a recording with no traceability whatsoever.

    Secondly, people just don't like being registered and tracked. The PIII controversy was just the beginning. Can you imagine giving the RIAA your name and address every time you buy an album? Do you want your kid harassed if his friends "borrow" some tracks and put them on the net?

  • Sounds like a killer app!

    The fruits of mp3/net-based broadcast and distribution breakthroughs will not be realized (as I think you suggest) by today's pop stars. If anything, they will 'suffer' to some degree, perhaps, as their parent Industry flips and flops on the skillet trying desparately to save itself at the expense of anything and anyone within clawing distance.

    I think your idea of a Nirvana like band breakthrough is right on, and in time, the same Regular Joe's who have grown familiar with buying books direct via Amazon et al, will be buying their cd's direct from artists through low-cost mp3.com type distributors. More power, money and credit will go to the musicians and engineers who actually MAKE the product.

    Change is always painful for someone. That's life!

  • Actually, they say in the article that they demonstrated playback on a Windows CE product. Which means either it doesn't need that much power... Or They had some decoding chips included.
  • You *are* talking about MS Audio *4.0* right? The one that was demonstrated *THIS WEEK*?

    Or are you talking about earlier versions of the codec?
  • According to some comments I seen in the trade press, M$ new system can't produce CD standard audio, unlike MP3.
    As bandwith and storage prices fall, I would guess that sound quality will be more important than file size. Hence, M$ will have yet another failure on their hands. (The next one is called Windows2000)
  • First of all, MS Audio at 20kbps blows away any other music audio codec I've ever heard at the same bitrate. It sounds like 64kbps MP3. I think Real will need to play catch up here.

    Modern music audio codecs are VERY complex. They begin with frequency transformations, then use perceptual modeling to figure out which frequencies of the audio signal are "masked" by other louder frequencies. Then you quantize the frequency coefficients using Huffman or arithmetic coding. The way you quantize is very important and takes a lot of tweaking. Then comes linear prediction. It's tough stuff! Not that it couldn't be done by a CS grad student though.

  • Several months ago I wrote to the Bamba manager and received a nice reply noting that Bamba was no longer being worked on. This is unfortunate, as it was a slick tool (including a Java viewer) and we used it to convert a number of inhouse training tapes for electronic ditribution. THe best part was that, using the Java applet, there was no need for the end user to install a viewer or plugin. A very disappointing loss.

  • I have to admit, there's little that RA can do to prevent MS from grabbing the audio market if MS wants to.

    Because the quality is generally so bad, I usually only use RA to listen to "radio" stations.

    A more important problem for Linux users is that many sites are converting to the G2 format meaning that the VERY OLD (they can't even be bothered to provide a fix for the 2.2 and glibc2 issues) RealAudio player is rapidly making RA a non-entity.

    If MS were to release a Linux-based player in short order, I'm guessing many people would use it.

    This is another area where IBM really screwed the pooch by dropping Bamba. Had they made a concerted effort, they could have flooded the market with encoders and clients.

  • > Small price to pay for a lot more freedom.

    People don't generally value freedom (for its own sake) that much anymore.

    *knock knock knock*

    Lemming: "Hello?"

    Idealist: "Have you heard about products X, N or B?"

    Lemming: "Yeah. Everyone's talking about those. But I already use product Y from vendor Z. You're not selling one of them, are you?"

    Idealist: "No. I'm just concerned for the long-term welfare of humanity. Maybe you shouldn't use product Y."

    Lemming: "Why not? I like it better. Products X, N and B aren't as good."

    Idealist: "Have you used products X, N or B?"

    Lemming: "No."

    Idealist: "Then why do you say that?"

    Lemming: "Because I like product Y and it's what I alrady use. Why switch?"

    Idealist: "Well, among other things, using product Y serves to prevent you from using products not from vendor Z..."

    Lemming: "So? All I ever use is vendor Z's products anyway."

    Idealist: "There are less expensive alternatives to vendor Z's products that work better for most of the things I know you do."

    Lemming: "But those don't work as good with vendor Z's products."

    Idealist: "Look, using products from vendor Z is denying you the freedom to use better and less expensive products when they're availible? Doesn't that bother you?"

    Lemming: "So? ...not really. Product Y works good enough for me, and it's what everyone else is using."

    Idealist: "Don't you care about having the freedom to try and use something better (and cheaper)?"

    Lemming: "Well, I guess. But I don't really have a choice, because everyone else uses product Y too..."

    Idealist: "But you DO have a choice! There are people using other, better, products that all work together. You're choosing to limit your own freedom by choosing product Y. The more people that use product Y, the less free everyone (including you) becomes."

    Lemming: "Yeah, but most people are already using product Y with vendor Z's stuff. Could you leave me alone please?"

    Idealist: "AUGH&*#@^$*(#@&^$&*#@^"

    Lemming: "I'm calling the police..."
  • all the major record companies (sony, warner, etc) have signed up with IBM-not MS. They are going to be the ones who drive the audio market because MS is nothing in the music world
  • >there is no other 20Kb stereo compression out >there that even comes close to comparing to the >new MS codecs

    I don't know what the MS codecs sound like, but Mpeg2 Layer 3 sounds quite nice at low bitrates (~24Kbps).
  • Nah! Sorry! Too many MP3's out now. Standard.
    Won't go away.

    Nuff said.
  • I remember 3 years ago, when Real Audio was really just coming on the scene, listening to screaming audio at 128kbps "Dual ISDN" quality, and it was every bit as crisp and clear as my CD player. Granted, I was at school and had an ethernet connection to the University's T1, but still, it was CD-quality streaming audio.

    What I've noticed since then is that every single site that has Real Audio content only has it in 16kbps mono, which is, to be frank, shit. I occasionally try to look long and hard for the 128kbps streams I listened to back in school, but of course they've been replaced with 16kbps items.

    I guess too many people complained about not being able to listen to them over their 28.8 modems.

  • Considering RealAudio's horrible sound quality (at the best of times it sounds like bad speakers played underwater), I am pleased to see some competition for commercial network audio.

    Network audio is a good idea. If we can bring the sound quality up to some reasonable standard, it will be even better.

    Hopefully Microsoft won't sit on their standards.
  • I tend to buy CD's. I find mp3's useful for "trying out" music... listening to new bands that I haven't heard before. Mind you--it's mp3 music piracy all the way, but I don't usually archive and replay that music.

    I have checked out the free mp3 selection on mp3.com, and like you, found very little high-quality music worth my time. There were both good and bad, but the bad tended to outnumber the good... at least in my humble opinion.

    If I find an artist I like, I tend to go out and buy the CD. It's not THAT huge of an investment, really. As a bonus, you get professionally printed cover art, and much improved sound quality.

    DVD audio should be cool if it's a solid standard. Plus, the DVD audio machines will no doubt be able to play CD's.. So current music investment is pretty safe.
  • First, MP3, and I presume 4, are open. That's numero uno. Secondly, I have not read about the LARGE group of MP3 enthusiasts like my friends and I. We rip each other's CD's and cram CDR's with as many as will fit and play them on our workstations at work. I have a Linux development box next to my workstation playing MP3's that I ripped from CD's I own. Screw M$ and their proprietary format. Hopefully MP4 will improve the compression. If MP3/4 goes mostly underground I'll be fine with it. I have no fear that certain companies will keep producing mp3/4 hardware players. The cat's out of the bag and I seriously doubt that M$ or anyone else can put it back in.


  • First, MP3, and I presume 4, are open. That's numero uno. Secondly, I have not
    read about the LARGE group of MP3 enthusiasts like my friends and I. We rip
    each other's CD's and cram CDR's with as many as will fit and play them on our
    workstations at work. I have a Linux development box next to my workstation
    playing MP3's that I ripped from CD's I own. Screw M$ and their proprietary
    format. Hopefully MP4 will improve the compression. If MP3/4 goes mostly
    underground I'll be fine with it. I have no fear that certain companies will
    keep producing mp3/4 hardware players. The cat's out of the bag and I
    seriously doubt that M$ or anyone else can put it back in.

    BTW, I had to post this from that Linux box since the Winblows media Player co-opted the ".pl" extension on my NT box and when I hit "submit" it tried to play the Perl file. I HATE M$. more every day.

  • Cringely also takes the record company line, hook & sinker, that MP3 will destroy the music industry by stealing royalties from artists. That's nonsense, just as much nonsense as it was in the 1980s when record company execs testified before Congress in an attempt to get blank audio tapes taxed prohibitively so that people wouldn't make copies of their audio tapes and LPs. (Even Congress didn't believe them, and in return, our people in DC accused the record companies of using unnecessarily cheap material to make 'commercial' audio tapes).

    MP3 won't kill off anybody anymore than the VCR or the tape deck did. The record companies need to stop dreaming of 78s and start capitalizing on the new technology, whether through value-add or new distribution techniques. I would say that the VCR and audio tape deck did more for their respective industries in terms of increasing sales, rather than decreasing sales, since their introduction. Like Microsoft, the record companies want to control the playing field, even if that means stifling or co-opting (e.g., encoded MP3 files) the playing field.

  • by grahamm ( 8844 )
    What happened to IBM's Bamba? This seemed to offer better quality and smaller files than real, but apart from a few demo sites I have rarely encountered it in use.
  • I'm with 'The Coward', just like Micros~1 took away Netscapes business model by forcing InternetExploder on the unsuspecting public, we can only destroy them by not buying their software. The more $$$ that goes to Redmond, the more $$$ will be used for things like the MindCrap report on NT kick'n Linux's butt.

    Resist! It is not futile.

  • I remember when Chicago was demonstrated, only to find out that it was really just a updated SHELL on DOS. MS smoke and mirrors is always used at the alpha stage of development. Why else would the end product always be lacking PROMISED functionality? They could have been playing wav files for all we know, they don't prove what they demonstrate. Look at what happened when they tried that in the Court of Law.....

    Smoke and mirrors. It amazes me people believe even half of what spews from Bill Gates' mouth and any of what comes from MS PR.

  • by Locutus ( 9039 )
    There's been talk in the OS/2 news groups that Bamba may find its way into the RealPlayer now that IBM and RealNetworks have joined. Add Xing to that team and you have a more powerful, technically, adversary to the Great Wet North.

  • Don't forget you also can have a MP3 streaming server called IceCast. I've run the port on OS/2 and it is really cool. Build your own home library of songs from you existing library and set up channels of styles. Bingo, a home stereo system replacement. Well, you might want to keep the amp around, AC/DC just doesn't play well at under 40Watts/channel. :)

  • How exactly is Microsoft going to "break" my encoders and players? I have a pretty good size data base of MP3s now. When a better technology is available I will evaluate it, but nothing I use is going to destroy the data base that I have already created.

  • Like I said, no one worth listening to.

    Not to burst your bubble, but PE and IceT are has-beens. So is Prince.

    Sigue Sigue Sptunik? Hahah.
  • Any format will need to have strong support and a strong presence in the conventional audio device market.

    I would say that this might provide the IBM/Sony system with an advantage, as Sony is a leading vendor or portable and console equipment, but I think they are still more interested in DVD Audio.

    On the other hand, MP3 is also dead in the long run. sorry folks, but the selection of artists using MP3 is simply far too weak. Please, no arguments about "the music biz telling me what to like" - that argument is ridiculous. The leading users of MP3 are garage bands who couldn't score a gig playing a bum's funeral.

    In other words, its still up for grabs. Whether DVD Audio will win out is the bigger issue.
  • This article talks about the announcement of Windows Media Technologies 4.0. [pathfinder.com]

    Interesting to notice how little industry support Microsoft has on this one. Also, how strong Real is.

    Also, WMT does MP3, too.
  • Disk is cheap, but compactflash card for my Rio ain't...
  • Yet again Microsoft brings to light the most glaring troubles with proprietary "standards" and abuse of monopoly power: they're hyping up a Windows CE player, and you can guarantee they'll be players for whatever the next desktop version of Windows is, but that's it. Does anyone seriously see them developing players for other operating systems? And it'll be a cold day in Hell before they'll license it to outside developers to design, say, an application to play the files on Linux.
    IBM et al. have shown recently that they're truly interested in developing new technologies, both to increase their profits and the gee-whiz value. Microsoft is just doing this as yet another attempt to keep the world strangled in the jaws of Windows.
    I'm really starting to miss the old world, where we as customers could decide what products we preferred, instead of having them rammed down our throats before there's even a chance for competition on the marketplace...
  • Naturally if the files are encoded at the same bitrate, (e.g. 128kbps) they will have (approximately) the same size. What they are arguing is that the M$ format sounds slightly better at about half the bits/second.

    I don't know whether it's true, I haven't heard it, but that's what they're claiming. So encode an MP3 at 128kbps and a M$ format file at 64kbps and see what you get.
  • I think you'll find that's SmartMedia. And the 32MB ones are just starting to be advertised for US$99.


    Win a Rio [cjb.net] (or join the SETI Club via same link)
  • This is how I listen to, purchase & collect music.

    Either I; Listen to a national, public, "youth" radio station called "TripleJ" and occasionaly get inspired to buy a CD from an up-and-coming band - often on an independant label, but not always. Then I copy the CD to the MP3 library on my hard drive.

    Or I; Check out the new uploads at MP3.com in either the electronica section, or in my local region (Perth, Australia). I download these files into the MP3 library on my hard drive.

    Then every few days I regenerate a randomly ordered playlist of all the MP3s in that library and play them on and off during the day using K-jofol. And every day I randomly select 48MB (using RioPump - cool) to load onto my Rio for that day's "wandering and waiting"

    Whenever I feel that one of the (new-ish) songs I'm listening to is particularly cool, I specifically try to source some more from that artist.

    I have an older PC connected to my Hi-fi with about 250MB for MP3s - it also has a CD drive, for both audio and data/MP3 discs.

    I'll be burning my first two volumes of MP3s to free up some space on the hard drive soon - then I'll be adding a random MP3 CD into the random mix described above.

    Notice how I quite legally (or at least morally) create my own MP3s from CD. If M$ releases a proprietory system were I have to pay for the compressor, I'm not going to be interested. Anyway, I've bought a Rio, so I've said that MP3 is plenty good enough for me.


    Win a Rio [cjb.net] (or join the SETI Club via same link)
  • ActiveX is just an automated way of installing plug-ins.

    This is useful, but not the last word in active content.


    Win a Rio [cjb.net] (or join the SETI Club via same link)
  • The truth is that from the standpoint of the record industry, it doesn't matter which standard prevails, just that one -- and only one -- standard does. .... A technical shift about now would be nice for sales, getting listeners to replace their CDs with the exact same songs in some new distribution format.

    What Cringley misses completely here is the difference between physical packaging and digital formats. In digital form, it is not only possible, but advantageous to have different standards -- after all, WinAMP can play WAVs and MP3s equally well. All that is needed for the Rio to play the next-generation audio format is a firmware upgrade.

    Besides, given that quality is not likely to exceed CDs, people will encode their existing CD collection to whatever the digital format of choice happens to be at that time. No sales there.

    The RIAA is just to have to get used to the fact that there's only so much money you can squeeze out of a single product.

    - Richie

  • Man--Music Industry executives and Microsoft in the same room! COOL!

    Maybe they can all go to Hell together! They'll certainly be as far from Janice and the Jim's as they can...

    You know when I'll realize all this is over? When I can turn on the radio and hear some real *art* for a change.

    I especially like the part about buying the same music all over again--has a real ring to it, you know?

    Oh--and they most *ceartainly* will be as far from W.A. Mozart as possible. Now *there's* an example of how pigs are so good at throwing flowers in the mud...
  • Its just another Netscape. Microsoft is working against Real rather than with them. And Microsoft will win.

    They'll win in the same way, too. Windows 2000 will include IE, Media Player, and native support for all things Microsoft Audio. What average user will bother downloading anything else?

    Only the court case could change anything. But does anyone seriously believe that it will?
  • Check out the official MPEG Committee website at http://drogo.cselt.stet.it/mpeg/ All you ever wanted to know about mpeg there :)
  • by djgoehrig ( 36290 ) on Friday April 16, 1999 @07:59AM (#1930566)
    I think that the Microsoft standard will only result in a horrible fracturing of the market, and it ultimately will have a small effect on the average end user. This issue is really pirating. With a unique user ID on ever Microsoft audio file, I doubt many pirates are going to use its products instead of MP3.

    In the long run, it will be who can steal the most music which will determine who wins, and not who has the best compression. Lets face it, if you're running an MP3 warzes site now, I doubt that you're going to jump on the MS bandwagon and land yourself in jail really soon...

    I think the Melissa virus proves that you could get slammed for using a Microsoft proprietary system.

    I think ultimately the real solution will be for some enterprising young matematicians to work out a GPLed equation for compressing audio and video. I think when that happens not only will the market be totally broke, but free software might win a huge battle.

    but that's just my little opinion.

1 1 was a race-horse, 2 2 was 1 2. When 1 1 1 1 race, 2 2 1 1 2.