MP4 launched as successor to MP3 music format
But it's not MPEG -- and it's probably not needed, either
Web site Global Music Outlet yesterday entered the race to define the standard format for music distributed by the Internet with the launch of a encoding system it calls MP4. But despite sounding like the successor to MP3, the MPEG 1-based format loved by listeners but loathed by the music industry, or even the latest generation the open audio and visual compression system, MPEG 4, MP4 is a proprietary format. In fact, MP4 uses encoding technology provided by AT&T, which suggests it's based on AT&T's a2b, one of the handful of digital music formats battling to become the standard. According to GMO, MP4 offers better sound quality than MP3 despite a higher level of compression (files are squeezed down by a ratio of 16:1 compared to 11:1 for MP3 -- a three-minute song takes up approximately 2.3MB of disk space, some 30% smaller than the equivalent MP3) file. MP4 files also include an embedded player to eliminate the need for a separate software audio player. GMO also claimed MP4 provides benefits for the owners of the encoded music tracks, allowing copyright holders to specify the degree to which tracks can be copied once downloaded and to issue 20-second audio clips. Tracks can also contain multiple hyperlinks to band and label Web sites. "With MP4 we hope to bridge the widening gap between the needs of online music fans and the rights of the artists and record companies that produce the music," said GMO CEO Anthony Stonefield. Trouble is, apart from some improvements on the compression front, MP4 does little that Liquid Audio's Liquid Tracks format doesn't already. Liquid Tracks has been around for some time and built up a good list of supporters, and Liquid Audio itself is part of the Secure Digital Music Initiative, the music industry-led committee charged with proposing an open digital music standard that will offer the flexibility of MP3 together with the level of copyright protection the big labels demand. GMO began working on MP4 before the big argument over MP3 was brewed by the Recording Industry Association of America's decision to sue Diamond Multimedia over its Rio MP3 player. The RIAA's failure to win concessions from Diamond and the resulting negative publicity it created for the music industry. That in turn led to the formation of the SDMI, something GMO couldn't have foreseen when it set out to develop an MP3 alternative. ®
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