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Weekly AUDIO NEWS for Jan. 31, 2001
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Digital Audio Codecs Compared - The European Broadcasting Union published results of a detailed evaluation of low bit-rate codecs. They had to develop new test techniques due to the often noticeable and disturbing artifacts compromising audio quality at these low bit rates. They investigated different versions of MP3, plus MPEG-2 AAC, RealNetworks v. 5.0 and G2, Yamaha SoundVQ, Q-Design Music Codec and Microsoft Windows Media 4. They tested in mono and stereo at five different bit rates, using speech in the clear, speech with music or background noise, and music only. The authors discovered large differences among the codecs.

The Q-Design codec was very good with music only at only 16K, but suffered on speech, whether overlaid or in the clear. At 32 K differences in stereo between the various codecs became very pronounced. Among the general conclusions: The AAC codec was the only one evaluated as Excellent at 64K. RealNetworks 5 and Q-Design were graded poor to bad at all bit rates. Windows Media 4 exhibited a very nonuniform performance , getting better at the highest rate but could still be poor even then on some material. The quality of the Q-Design codec depended on the nature of the source material and not the bit rate. RealNetworks 5 was also independent of the bit rate and was mainly in the Fair category. RealNetworks G2 codec was worse at 20K than at 16K and at 32K stereo was similar to 16K mono, suggesting that "joint stereo" coding had no advantage.

Portable Hard Drives As Solution to Expensive Solid State Storage - The latest Nomad Jukebox portable audio recorder/player employs an actual 6 GB hard drive with USB connection and pushbutton interfaces on top. It is about the size of a portable CD player and costs $499. Up to 150 CDs' worth of compressed MP3 or Windows Media music can be stored, and it also reads WAV files. Life on the rechargeable batteries is good, and the sampling rate can be adjusted anywhere from 48K down to 11K. The main place the unit falls down is recording directly from a microphone - evidently too much RF in the unit. And monitoring is difficult, plus there is no recording level meter. Perhaps the next version of this promising new audio device line will correct these problems.

Digital TV Not Such a Slow Starter After All - The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) announced last week that actual unit sales of DTV units to dealers in 2000 surpassed earlier industry estimates and accounted for $1.4 billion - a 400% growth over 1999. Nearly 37,000 set-top receivers were also sold. CEA's president Gary Shapiro said this demonstrated the robust consumer interest in digital television. Retail launch of HDTV began late in l998 and only 121,000 sets were sold in l999 but sales of 2.1 million are predicted for 2002, rising to over 10 million in 2006. Now all we need is some worthwhile HDTV programming...

- John Sunier

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