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Patents Expire For The Popular mp3
As 'Richer' Audio Format Arrives ...

June 1, 2017

By Dave Courvoisier
Voice Actor and TV News Anchor

Few established technologies can match the ubiquity of the mp3 music format. For more than 20 years it's been the defacto standard of audio engineers, music aficionados, and certainly most aspects of the voice over industry.

When the mp3 format came along, even audiophiles had to agree that only the most discerning human ear could detect the difference between the sound of an mp3 file and the more data-rich .wav file.

And back then, the space savings for early digital storage made mp3 the hands-down choice.

But the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits that developed the mp3 format under a German research agency recently released the following statement:
"(the)...licensing program for certain MP3 related patents and software of Technicolor and Fraunhofer IIS has been terminated..."
What exactly does THAT mean?
  • Will Apple all of a sudden switch over to something else?
  • Will voice over clients demand some other esoteric format like Xiph OGG Container (*.ogg)?
Nah.

NEW FORMAT ARRIVING, BUT ...

The Germans are now backing the newer AAC format (Advanced Audio Coding), which they also developed. No question, it's a better algorithm than the mp3. Here's why, according to a recent NPR article:
"...The engineers who developed the MP3 were working with incomplete information about how our brains process sonic information, and so the MP3 itself was working on false assumptions about how holistically we hear.

"As psychoacoustic research has evolved, so has the technology that we use to listen. New audio formats and products, with richer information and that better address mobile music streaming, are arriving..."

But we have only to look at a similarly entrenched technology - ISDN - to see how long it takes for obsolescence to really find full flower.

Even in the face of less expensive, more technologically advanced, and easier-to-use products, most production houses and audio engineers will stay with the tried and true of ISDN. It's just part of their well-established work flow, and its reliable.

Getting that to change takes an act of God. Just ask voice talent Joe Cipriano, who years ago tried to get ABC Network engineers to even trySource-Connect technology as an ISDN alternative. They all agreed it worked as promised, then went back to their Musicam Codecs. Hmph.

CHANGE IS COMING


All that being said, when Fraunhofer makes this kind of a statement, it's probably best to start looking ahead.

They sounded serious.

More than likely, advances in smartphone technology are also a reason for this development.

An Extreme Tech article claims there might even be a political/economic reason for Fraunhofer making this move:
"...What actually happened is this: As of April, the last patents on MP3 encoding that Fraunhofer could still validly enforce and collect royalties on expired in the United States. As a result, the institute has terminated its licensing program, because licenses are no longer necessary..."
Regardless, change is constant, and in this case, after 20 years it may well be time for a shift to something even better.
--------------------
ABOUT DAVE
Dave Courvoisier is an Emmy Award-winning broadcaster, writer, producer, voice actor, and the main weeknight news anchor on KLAS-TV, Channel 8, the Las Vegas CBS affiliate. He also writes Voice-Acting in Vegas, a daily blog of voice over adventures, observations and technology, and is author and publisher of the book, More Than Just A Voice: The Real Secret To VoiceOver Success. And (when does he sleep?) he is also current president of the World-Voices Organization, the non-profit association of voice actors.

Email: CourVO@CourVO.com
Web: http://www.courvo.com
Blog: http://www.courvo.biz
More Than Just A Voice: http://courvo.com/more-than-just-a-voice

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Comments (4)
Scott Burns
6/11/2017 at 12:59 PM
Great article indeed! Thank you, Dave.

I remember reading a story of how all our technology eventually becomes obsolete...CD's and certainly video cameras. I applaud those seeking to continually evolve and wonder if we'll ever all live to see the day where ISDN relegated to the history books!

Mark Driscoll
6/2/2017 at 12:49 AM
Great article Dave, thanks!
Julio Perez
6/1/2017 at 1:04 PM
Based on the article above--in particular, the reference to the ExtremeTech piece--it could also mean that, because Fraunhofer has lost its right to patenting the MP3 standard, it might be considered down the road as an open source protocol. Should this occur, royalties will not have to be paid to Fraunhofer or to any third party in order to develop software that exports .MP3 files. True, newer and richer audio formats exist and may be preferable in certain cases, but it doesn't imply the MP3 standard will immediately die.
Bill Nevitt
6/1/2017 at 10:04 AM
Thanks, Dave, for this information. Appears there is no change that is imminent, but, we all need to stay current or be left behind. "When you're through changing, you're through!"
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