Ogg Vorbis—Open, Free Audio—Set Your Media Free

Ogg Vorbis is the Open-Source Community's hot alternative to MP3.
Ogg Vorbis vs. MP3

Figure 1. Ogg Vorbis vs. MP3

Ogg Vorbis is patent free and it was designed that way from the beginning. There are no licensing fees or costs associated with using the format for any purpose whether it is commercial or noncommercial. It's also open source under terms of the LGPL, so even the source code is free for companies and fellow hackers.

It's not enough just to be free. Vorbis has superior sound quality, which is what one would expect from a next-generation audio codec. Due to an extendable format, Vorbis' quality will improve for years to come without affecting decoders already being used. Vorbis sounds great now, but the quality is nothing compared to the Vorbis that will be around six months from now.

Quality is not the only advantage that Vorbis offers. Vorbis has some unique technical features as well: extensible comments, bitrate peeling and access to the raw codec packets.

Comments are defined in the format, so there are no worries about ugly and limiting hacks like ID3 tagging. The comments are stored in name=value pairs, and while there is a standard set of comments for applications to comply with for often-used data, you can add arbitrary comments if you need to.

Bitrate peeling allows for lowering the bitrate of a stream or file on the fly without re-encoding. This is achieved by encoding the most useful data toward the beginning of a packet. Slimming the stream is simply a matter of chopping the tails off of every packet before you send them out. Imagine listening to a radio stream that changes the bitrate based on your personal bandwidth needs. If you have dropouts, it sends you a smaller stream; if your download finishes, it sends you more data.

For multicast or other special applications, access to raw Vorbis packets allows complete control over how data is organized and shuffled around.

And, there's no reason to put up with leading or trailing silence since Vorbis has sample granularity on seek and decode. Remember all those gaps between tracks on your favorite trance CD? They disappear with Vorbis. Need to seek exactly to sample 303054? Vorbis provides a mechanism to do this. This makes Vorbis well suited to production work in ways that MP3 never was.

Developers and users, will appreciate having a high-quality set of reference libraries. This means that not everyone who wants to write an audio player needs to write their own decoder. Developers also have more time to spend on other things besides audio formats. This allows them to build more sophisticated and useful software.

Current Status

Two and a half years of Vorbis development (most of it as a side project) finally brought us the Ogg Vorbis beta1 release in mid-June of this year. It was limited to one bitrate, but it already had plug-ins for most players as well as support on many platforms.

In August, Ogg Vorbis beta2 release was launched at LinuxWorld Expo in San Jose, California. Five bitrates from 128kbps to 350KBps and several quality improvements were the main features.

Right now we're rapidly approaching the beta3 release, which has a number of significant quality improvements. This is mostly due to the many pairs of ears that report artifacts and bugs. The code has been organized toward the goal of a permanent API, and several new tools have been added.

Several optimizations were made that resulted in the decoder being twice as fast. We've also tuned the code to be tolerant for those who implement Vorbis using integer-only math. This allows hardware and embedded devices to more easily support Ogg Vorbis playback.

We've had over 100,000 downloads of Ogg Vorbis in the three months since its release, and third-party support has been wonderful so far. Xmms, Freeamp and Kmpg already support Vorbis playback (even popular Windows players like Sonique and Winamp support Vorbis). LAME can now produce Ogg Vorbis files as well as MP3 files and can re-encode MP3s to Vorbis in one step. Several people reported success with Grip the CD ripper, and new applications are popping up all the time.

A few content producers who are early adopters have started to embrace the format as well. Vorbisonic.com and eFolkmusic.com have Ogg Vorbis files up for download, and you can find more sites listed on the www.vorbis.com pages.

Shortly after our beta1 release, we did some random searches for domain names with “vorbis” in them that showed that a lot of people were buying Vorbis-related domain names. Several Vorbis-related sites have already turned up, including govorbis.com and vorbiszone.com.