The end of MP3? Opus Audio Codec promises better sound with less bandwidth

From Digital Trends:

Did you know there was such a thing as an Internet Engineering Task Force? Turns out, there’s a “large open international community of network designers, vendors, and researchers,” whose mission is to organize, codify, research and document evolving standards for online applications. And this week, they approved the Opus Interactive Audio Codec as a new standard for online audio, in a move that may improve the sound of everything from streaming radio to VoIP calls, even as it lowers prices.

The Opus codec was developed by a consortium of researchers from Mozilla, Xiph.org, Skype, Microsoft, and Broadcomm. Previous audio codecs have been optimized for specific uses – MP3 for music, SILK for voice, and so on –– but Opus promises better sound for everything, no matter how low your bitrate. Opus switches between different codecs based on how much bandwidth it detects, so it can reduce latency and drop-outs on any connection.

Even more exciting than how Opus works is how it’s been developed. Although plenty of patents have been filed around the technology, all the companies involved in Opus have committed to making the codec royalty-free, with an open-source code base.

The commitment to an open-source implementation isn’t just hippie good vibes. While MP3 has made a lot of downloaders happy, it’s a patented codec, and anyone who uses it has to pay a licensing fee to the patent-holders. That means anyone who wants to build an MP3 distributor, an MP3 player, or even a game that uses MP3 to stream its audio can’t make free software, because they’re in hock to the rights-holder as soon as their program is used. If you’ve ever wondered why Apple got into the audio-codec business with AAC, this is a big part of the answer; few companies hate seeing money leave the building like Apple.

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