MP3 Linux Players
MP3 (Motion Picture Experts Group audio layer 3) is an audio file format capable of storing near CD-quality audio in relatively small files (as little as 1/10 the size of comparable WAV files). A four-minute audio track recorded at 44KHz requires about 4MB in MP3 format, while the same audio track recorded in WAV format can occupy over 40MB. MP3 has received a great deal of attention lately. According to searchterms.com, a site that ranks the most frequently used search terms, “mp3” is number one. That's right—it's even ahead of “sex”, which is number two.
The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) is concerned that MP3 will make it difficult to sell music on-line, as MP3 has no mechanism for preventing illegal copying. In December, RIAA announced its Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI) to encourage technology companies to create a new specification for on-line music. RIAA also sued Diamond Multimedia in October, attempting to prevent the sale of Diamond's RIO PMP300 portable MP3 player. Fortunately for Diamond and MP3 fans, RIAA lost the suit.
In February, Lycos and FAST launched a search site for MP3 files on the Internet. The site contains a database of over half a million links to MP3 files. While the site is a great resource for finding MP3 files, it immediately caused concern about illegal MP3 files. Search for one of your favorite artists, and you may find links to illegal MP3 files. In March, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) began legal action against FAST for its role in the MP3 search site. IFPI members include BMG, EMI, Sony Music, Universal Music International and Warner Music. In a statement on their home page, IFPI Director of Operations Mike Edwards said:
The Lycos/FAST search engine should be promoting opportunities for the many start-up businesses that are pioneering legitimate electronic delivery of music over the Internet. Instead, however, this search engine is doing the opposite: it is providing a service where virtually no authorized files can be found. This is a threat to the companies who want to build a flourishing legal electronic marketplace.
IBM has introduced its Madison project to allow cable modem users to purchase music on-line, download it and save it onto CD-ROM (provided they have a CD-R or CD-RW drive). The CD can then be played on any CD player. IBM claims the technology will prevent users from making illegal copies. The project has the backing of IFPI.
Sony has also proposed another way to distribute copyright-protected music. This system includes MusicGate for recording and playback and OpenMG for use on computers. OpenMG would require hardware installed on the computer's serial port to prevent illegal copying.
Quite a few MP3 players are already available for Linux. The console-based mpg123 is popular. You can use it from either the command line or one of the many applications that use mpg123 as the MP3 decoder, and have a nice GUI for song playlist management. GQmpeg is an excellent MP3 player with a customizable GUI using “skins”. You can also try one of the many MP3-capable GUI-based applications that don't use mpg123 as the MP3 decoding engine, such as FreeAmp or X11Amp. Some of the MP3 players also support streaming MP3 (called Shoutcast), similar to Real Audio.
MP3 players are not particularly useful without some MP3 files. MP3.com has a wide variety available for download. Many users are creating their own MP3 files from their personal CDs. This is legal for personal use only. You cannot redistribute audio tracks you copy from one of your CDs. The process of copying the audio data from a CD is typically called “ripping”; applications that do the work are “CD rippers”. A good tool for this on Linux is cdparanoia, which will read from both SCSI and ATAPI CD-ROMs. The CD rippers typically save data in WAV format, which must then be converted to MP3 with another tool such as mp3encode or bladeenc. An increasing number of console and GUI tools are available to automate this process by looking up the track names on the Internet with CDDB and then using external rippers and encoders to do the work. You put the CD in your CD-ROM, select the tracks to encode and wait.
Some issues must be considered before converting all your CDs to MP3. The process can be quite time-consuming for both CD ripping and encoding. The reading of an audio CD is handled much differently than a data CD, and the process can take hours. This is especially true if the CD has scratches on it. Encoding the WAV files into MP3 can also take hours. This process is best done when you're not otherwise using your machine. In fact, many Windows-based encoders have options to power down your machine when finished. Once your MP3 files are ready, there is still one last issue to consider. Playing MP3 files can use up a good deal of your system's CPU cycles. It is typical for MP3 players to use 20% or more of your CPU cycles on a 200MHz Pentium. That's not a big deal if you're browsing the Web or using a word processor, but it certainly is if you're recompiling the kernel.