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Weekly AUDIO NEWS for February 19, 2003

RIAA Keeping Busy - Jack Valenti, President of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) spoke recently of the problems faced by the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) and the music industry in general: “The music industry now is suffering nine, ten, fifteen percent losses in revenue. When you compound that over the next three or four years, the music industry is dead.” The industry and Hollywood’s main complaint is of course alleged copyright violations. Yet according to Fred von Lohman of the Electronic Frontier Foundation: “Over 100 years every single new technology that copyright owners have protested has turned out to make them more money - not less.” (The Disney/Betamax fight a prime example.) And a recent poll of 2500 randomly-selected “streamies” - those who listen to or watch steaming media on the Web - showed that this group bought 50% more actual CDs in the past year than the average American.

The RIAA won a court decision against Verizon which will force the ISP (and potentially others as well) to reveal the identities of users employing their connection to trade music files over peer-to-peer networks. The file-swapping service Kazaa is seen as one of the biggest threats since it has far more people using its software than Napster ever had - over 185 million. The RIAA is trying to shut them down as occurred with Napster. They are also pursuing universities who allow students to trade music on the Net.

Digital Music Downloads in Record Stores - Experimenting with new approaches to marketing music, six major record store chains will soon offer customers digital music downloads right in their stores. The joint venture is called Echo and will be in competition with the online ventures PressPlay and Rhapsody. You must go into the store to burn the music when using Echo.

Windows Media 9 New Net AV Compression Technology - According to Microsoft, WM9 supports both 5.1 channel streaming audio and broadcast quality video over the Net, integrated with the company’s Digital Rights Management. The Pro version supports up to 24bit/96K audio at delivery rates from 128 to 768kbps. That means a 5.1 multichannel WM9 file can be delivered at the same rate as a stereo MP3 file and with superior resolution. There are many different configurations of WM9, including Lossless (duplicates CDs with one-half to one-third the original file size), and WM9Voice (optimized for low-bit-rate streaming at less than 20kbps). The latter is already being used by NPR for their news programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. It also allows for variable-speed playback, so new can be speeded up without altering the pitch. The video technology is claimed to equal the quality of MPEG-2 at one-third the file size.

So MP3 is being improved upon, but we’re still a very long way from high fidelity on the Net. Experts in audio codecs (data reduction and restoration) say it works better to edit audio material before encoding rather than letting the codec do it. One suggests compressing the dynamic range plus eliminating all frequencies below 120 Hz and above 6 KHz - that’s AM radio! It’s also suggested to re-sample standard 44.1 CD sources to 32 KHz.

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