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MP3 Is The Buzzword On The Internet

Sandra Prior
Jun 16, 2008
The hype around MP3 has been phenomenal, but with it has come many misapprehensions about what exactly it is and what you can do with it. The most common statement we hear from the uninitiated is that MP3 is illegal. Let's clear this one up for starters. MP3 is not illegal. It is simply a file format.

There's no denying that MP3 files can be used illegally, but so can your cassette deck. The publicity about law-breaking MP3 pirates shouldn't dissuade you from taking an interest in this revolutionary way of delivering music.

Size Matters

If it's just a file format, then what's so special about it? To answer this, we need to get technical. Let's start with what we had before the arrival of MP3. The most common audio file format used in computing was the WAV file. This is the file type that is used to make all the 'beeps' and 'boings' that Windows produces whenever you perform an action, such as emptying your recycle bin.

You can take a look at these files and change which ones are used by opening the Windows Control Panel and double clicking on sounds. The sound quality of WAV files are excellent, but there is one huge problem that has prevented them from becoming useful on the Internet for anything other than short soundbites - such as the clips and quotes from your favorite TV shows that the Net is awash with. The problem is size.

WAV files are huge. Take, for example, the sound your PC makes every time you start Windows. It only lasts a few seconds, yet the file size is a staggering 676k. This is why many PC owners who are a bit short on hard disk space make it one of their first priorities to delete all the unnecessary WAV files from their systems.

MPEG Audio Layer 3

MP3 - or MPEG Audio Layer 3, to acknowledge its full title - is basically a file format which produces near-CD quality, in about one twelfth of the space of a WAV file. It was developed by the Moving Picture Experts Group - hence the acronym - which was responsible for MPEG-1, MPEG-2 and the development of MPEG-4. There is no MPEG-3, as such, and the MP3 that we know is simply the file extension for what is one of three MPEG audio coding schemes (Layer-1, Layer-2, Layer-3).

The principle behind MPEG is to provide, as its name suggests, more than just audio formats. The most common application of MPEG-2 that you will be familiar with is that of DVD. It's all about high quality in a small amount of data, and its potential for providing music across the Internet was quickly exploited.

How it Works

How Layer-3 decoding achieves such compression, without a huge hit to the quality of output, is quite a feat. Terms like 'perceptual audio coding' and 'psycho-acoustic compression' are enough to impress anyone, even if you haven't a clue what they mean.

Essentially, the superfluous information is removed from the signal, and by superfluous we are mainly talking about all the frequencies that are beyond the range the human ear can pick up.

Caution about Copyright

No one was quicker to realize this than the pirates. MP3 is not illegal, but copyright still applies to any piece of music, regardless of form. Therefore, the huge upsurge in MP3 files that appeared on the Net - mostly ripped from copyrighted audio CDs and converted to MP3 format - stepped on to the wrong side of the law and caused great consternation in the record industry.

Copyright is the one area that MP3 doesn't address. There are no security features built in, and therefore no way of protecting copyright. There are alternative file formats that do take this into account, such as Liquid Audio, but they have failed to attract the same attention as MP3.

The number of MP3 files on the Internet is staggering. To get the best out of MP3 music, you'll need a decent computer. Any Pentium class machine will suffice. You'll also need a program to play your MP3 files. Windows Media does a good job of that and is included in Windows 2000/XP. If you fancy turning your CDs into MP3 music, you need a program called a MP3 Decoder.
About the Author
Subscribe to Sandra Prior's Online Newsletter and get up to date Computer Technology News delivered right to your email box for free.
See website for details http://usacomputers.rr.nu and http://sacomputers.rr.nu.
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