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MP3 Pro to be made public

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The brains behind the controversial MP3 digital audio format will unveil a higher quality, more compact version later today.

Called MP3 Pro, the format emerged earlier this year and was to have made its first public appearance late March or early April.

MP3 Pro's creators, France's Thomson Multimedia and Germany's Fraunhofer Institute, claim the new format requires half the disk space needed to encode the previous generation of MP3 files. Alternatively, it will double the sound quality at the same file size - essentially a 128Kbps MP3 Pro file will take up as much storage space as a 64Kbps MP3 track.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, the new format isn't entirely backward compatible. An MP3 Pro player will have no trouble pumping out older MP3 files. Existing MP3 players will reproduce MP3 Pro files poorly, since the new version splits audio data into two streams,
unlike MP3's single stream. MP3 players will play one of MP3 Pro's two streams, resulting in a significant loss of fidelity.

Like MP3, the new technology will be provided free to writers of non-commercial audio decoders, but producers of encoding software and commercial decoders will have to license the codec. MP3 Pro royalties are around 50 per cent higher than their MP3 equivalents.

As yet, MP3 Pro has had no official backing from any of the major digital music companies. Only Thomson has said it will use the technology in digital music hardware it is planning to release later this year. ®

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