New Lossless MP3 Format – French electronics giant Thomson has announced a new lossless hybrid MP3 format, compatible with existing MP3 players and iPods and similar to how hybrid SACDs work. mp3HD uses the familiar .mp3 file expansion, but stores a lossless audio stream alongside the convention lossy MP3 track – both contained in a single MP3 file, making it compatible. Users would not have to rip two versions of the same track – they could enjoy lossless audio reproduction at home and standard MP3 files on the go. The files are slightly larger than standard MP3 files. But one glitch could be that one can’t transfer only the smaller, lossy part of the mp3HD file to, say, an iPod. You must transfer the whole thing, taking up more memory on memory-shy players. You also need to install plug-ins on your computer. The prediction is that this hi-res MP3 will appeal more to those with hard drives in their mobile music players, and the average download users will stick with data-reduced MP3s and Apple’s special iTunes lossless files.
History of AV Format Wars – Getting back to old-fashioned physical media for audio and video, here’s a quick look at some of the successful and unsuccessful contenders over the years: Starting in the 1890s it was cylinders vs. disc records, and on discs it was lateral vs. vertical cutting and reproduction. In 1925 electrical recording was introduced – no competition there. The vinyl long-play 33 1/3 record came along in l948, followed by RCA Victor’s competing 7-inch 45 rpm. There was also an unsuccessful attempt at 16rpm LPs.
In the 1960s we had the awful 4-track and 8-track cartridges vs. the more sensible Compact Cassette, which held popularity until just recently. The 1970s brought all the competing Quadraphonic encoding approaches on LP – talk about format war! There was SQ, QS, CD-4 and others. The failure of surround sound at that time was due to the confusion of all the formats, none of which worked very well. In the video area we had the famous battle started in 1976 between Sony’s BetaMax (the better system technically) and JVC’s longer-capacity VHS. As we all know, VHS won… until it was replaced by DVD, starting in 1997. In between headway was made by Pioneer’s optical Laserdisc, while RCA attempted a similar play-only video format using grooves, which died rather quickly. The LD found only a very small videophile market appreciating its higher-quality images and sound. A number of attempt were made over the years in various competing audiotape formats. 3M had an odd cartridge system with cassette-width tape that was pulled out and later rewound back in. Sony tried the giant quarter-inch cartridge called the Elcaset in 1976, which failed totally.
In the 1990s Sony brought out both DAT (Digital Audio Tape) and MiniDisc – a digital format using an ATRAC codec. Both could record and play back. At about the same time Philips’ brought out their complicated DCC (Digital Compact Cassette) – another digital cassette which didn’t stand a chance against DAT. But DAT failed as a consumer product due to excessive fears of the record companies about pirating, though it was used for years in pro recording. The Mini-Disc was popular in the Asian market. Thru all this the vinyl LP did not die out but actually has been resuscitated to command a bigger slice of the market than hi-res digital audio – SACD and DVD-Audio. Today we have all the confusing recordable DVD formats: DVD-R, DVD+R, DVD-RAM. Hi-def video had a brief format war starting in 2006 between HD-DVD and Blu-ray, won by the latter last year. What’s next? Audio-only Blu-rays? 176K audio files? 1440p video? An easily-accessible and playable compatible lossless hi-res surround sound audio file?