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RIP MP3? Not so fast, this old gal isn’t going away yet

You may not have heard of the Fraunhofer Society, but youve almost certainly used some of its inventions – notably MP3 (but it also contributed to AAC audio and H.264 video). Recently, many rushed to declare MP3 dead because Fraunhofer killed its licensing program and declared AAC the successor.

There seems to be a misunderstanding. Patents on MP3 decoding expired a couple of years ago, you can use any free implementation you wish and not pay a cent in licensing. Recently, patents on encoding expired as well (save for a couple of unimportant ones), so license-free software can create MP3s as well.

How does that lead to the death of the most popular formats around? You may not remember when GIF was patent-encumbered too – Unisis (the patent holder) wanted devs to pay for a license and so devs started building alternative formats. Its how PNG was born. This threatened the popularity of GIF, there was even a Burn All GIFs campaign.

Now that GIF is free of patents, its more popular than ever – its even supported by keyboards! Not to mention the many image sharing sites that support it (and swap it for GIFV because true GIFs waste too much bandwidth).

So, will this be the end of MP3? We doubt it. If at all possible, MP3 will become even more popular. Sure, AAC promises better audio quality, but MP3 encoders have gotten so good that the difference is slim. Plus, there are even better open-source audio codecs out there – like Opus (then there’s the FLAC crowd too).

The thing is that MP3 is like JPEG – its perceived as old and inefficient, but its supported by everything under the sun. That makes it a common medium, so easy to share that its not going away anytime soon. This isnt like cassette tapes or vinyl discs, which became obsolete… wait, those arent dead either!

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