Analysis (Services and Self)

Koan Bremner's view on life as a database and data warehouse professional / addict and non-genetic woman

Sunday, March 13, 2005

What's in a format?

Do you have an MP3 player? Chances are good that you do, according to a raft of recent statistics. If you do, chances are *very* good that it's an iPod (or one of its variants). Which means (unless you like carrying around an empty electronic device that acts as little more than a paperweight) that you're likely to have at least one piece of digital audio content in which you're interested; an MP3 file, or Apple AAC file, or Windows Media WMA file, or uncompressed WAV, or Ogg Vorbis, or Real Networks, or Digital Monkey, or...

Why the proliferation of formats? Are there any relative advantages or disadvantages? Why should you care? Here are my thoughts on how the plethora of formats impacts my consumption (and, to a much lesser extent, production) of digital audio. My conclusion; I really *can* have my cake and eat it... but sadly not in one format.

When thinking about these different formats, the aspects I considered included:

* Sound quality - how "listenable" were the results, on the various mechanisms by which I consume digital audio;

* Size - yup; size matters ;-) certainly if you're downloading and storing the files, how long is it going to take to download them, and how much space will they consume (on your MP3 player, and on whatever persistent archive you use);

* Availability - from which sources can I get files in this format;

* Usability - on which devices can I use that format;

* Reusability - if I want to reuse part of the content (assuming, of course, that I have the right to) how does the format of the original impact the quality of the results;

* Rights management - can the format enforce rights management (i.e. I'll be restricted in what I can do with it, possibly depending on the price I'm prepared to pay) and can *I* enforce any rights on the content that *I* produce (assuming I choose to);

* "Produceability" - how easy is it for me to produce content in that format;

* Value-add - does the format offer *anything* else that may make it more (or less) applicable to certain uses, other than those aspects listed above?

Out of deference to James (who made the fair observation that some of my posts are too large - "size matters" again!) I'm going to cover this discussion in multiple posts. But I'll state *my* conclusion at the outset (and justify why I've come to that conclusion as we go forwards): Apple's AAC format is the optimal format "for me" (because I can bookmark the files, in iTunes and in my iPod Mini, so I can go away and play as many other tracks as I like, but the next time I play this track, it remembers where I was); except that it can't be used with Napster (or Napster-To-Go), the former being this music-lover's legitimate dream, while the latter appears to be that dream with bells on... but not on an iPod; for Napster, WMA rules.

In the next post in this series, I'll look at sound quality and size (because the two are inextricably linked).

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