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German boffins win prize for 'MP3 for phones'

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Remorseless German boffins are patting themselves on the back after winning a prize for their efforts developing "MP3 for phone calls".

The prize in question is one of the three 2011 Joseph von Fraunhofer awards, given annually to the top researchers across Germany's mighty Fraunhofer Institutes.

One of the best known of these is the Fraunhofer-Institut für Integrierte Schaltungen (IIS - the Institute for Integrated Circuits) in Erlangen, where as most Reg readers will know the famous mp3 audio codec was developed.

Everyone loves MP3, but it isn't perfect - it's not suitable for phone calls and particularly for videoconferencing, as it takes too long to compress and decompress audio, introducing unacceptable latency.

"The algorithm requires a certain amount of time to encode the data and to decode it again at the other end of the line," explains top IIS boffin Markus Schnell. "The process requires data that is still in the future, as it must wait for the data to arrive. This can result in a situation where interactive communication is very difficult."

This situation was naturally intolerable to Schnell and his colleagues at IIS, and they set to work to develop a new technology: Enhanced Low Delay Advanced Audio Coding, or AAC-ELD. This compresses audio data down by a factor of 30, but introduces latency of only 15 milliseconds.

This impressive performance has scooped a €20,000 Jospeh von Fraunhofer prize purse for Schnell and his fellow-boffins Marc Gayer and Manfred Lutzky, who accept the prize jointly on behalf of the AAC team.

An earlier version of the tech, AAC-LD (as opposed to -ELD), is already in use in videoconferencing systems and live sports reporting. It is also to be found in the FaceTime vid-call applications found in the latest iPhones and iPads, as well as online multiplayer gaming systems. ®

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