MP3 is dead. Long live … what?

Girl Genius: The old Storm King is killed, and a new one promptly crowns himselfThere’s the blatantly obvious. Then there’s the blatantly cynical, who-cares-if-you-see-right-through me obvious. I’m not talking about Donald Trump but Fraunhofer. The patents which gave them revenue have barely expired on the format, and they’ve suddenly decided that MP3 is dead. They’ve even crowned its successor: not any open format, of course, but AAC, which can provide patent revenues for years.

They’re right that it’s an ancient technology that’s long been surpassed. MP3 was an early attempt at an audio format with lossy compression. It was a breakthrough in the nineties but is primitive today. Other formats provide better compression. It’s just a compression format, not a file format, and the de facto file format has limited metadata capabilities. It stayed at the top because of name recognition, not technical qualities.

Today there are several competing formats for lossy audio compression, all with better performance than MP3. The current favorite in the open-source community may be Opus, a compression format often used with the Ogg container. Vorbis was the favorite till recently, but even its website now recommends Opus. From a technical standpoint this doubtless makes sense, but when Vorbis was struggling to gain recognition, bringing a new name on the scene has probably just confused most people.

Software support for Opus is thin but growing. Browser support includes recent versions of Edge, but Apple isn’t touching it so far.

De facto standards have a lot of staying power, so it’s doubtful that MP3 will go away soon. It would be a great thing, though, if Opus or some other open standard emerged as the new default lossy audio format.

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