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

Ogg Vorbis is the Open-Source Community's hot alternative to MP3.
Where We Are Going

We have only started the optimization process. On the decoding side, Ogg Vorbis is nearly as fast as the current MP3 decoders and should catch up soon. Several people already claim good playback on Pentium 120 machines. On the encoding side, real-time encoding is already possible on fast Pentium IIs and Pentium IIIs. Now that the API is getting stable and more features are getting knocked out, more and more people have started to turn to the issues of speed.

Comparing Vorbis to MP3 is almost unfair, since Vorbis has no channel coupling, but we're still ahead. There are some tricky patents that we must navigate, but the development team is looking to Ambisonics to fill this gap. Ambisonics was patented, but the patents have since expired. The company itself went out of business due to stiff competition from Dolby. Ambisonics technology would provide Vorbis with true three-dimensional, spherical sound, which can be mapped onto any number of speakers—all this in only four channels (one and two for stereo, three for surround and four for spherical sound). Taking advantage of channel coupling should easily drop bitrates by 40 percent.

Streaming is also very high on the list. We are currently testing streaming and should have a few test stations up before November. Soon after, Icecast should begin supporting Vorbis as its primary format for audio. This gives Internet radio fans higher quality streams, and it offers broadcasters a way out of end-of-year broadcasting royalties.

For streaming, lower bitrates are vital. Right now the lowest bitrate that the reference encoder outputs is approximately 128KBps. Typical streams range from 24KBps to 64KBps, and we'll soon focus on the tuning necessary to make low bitrate Vorbis sound fantastic. Lower sample rates are also on the horizon.

And, as always, we rigorously tune and improve the audio quality by adding quality-enhancing features and eliminating noticeable artifacts.

Ogg Vorbis 1.0, which includes the features outlined above, should be completed by the time you read this.

Gaining Ground on MP3

A lot of people ask us how we plan to take over the ground MP3 has already claimed. Some people don't even think that it's possible. I think it is. You can't really compare Vorbis to other audio codecs that have tried to accomplish what we have, because no other audio codec other than Vorbis is more free and more open than MP3. Part of the reason that the MP3 movement succeeded was due to the massive amounts of software that supported it. The software support happened because there was code lying around all over the Internet and documentation on how to use it or to write your own. Some people compare MP3 versus Vorbis to VHS versus Betamax. They say that just because we're technically superior doesn't that mean we will win. I guess those people don't realize that VHS won because the technology was actually more open.

Our strategy is to go after two groups: the artists and the developers.

Artists, and other content producers need, Vorbis to avoid paying percentages of their revenue to some technology company in Germany. Most of these people are also interested in having the best sounding quality product that they can get. People won't choose Vorbis or MP3 files simply for the sake of technology. People want music from artists they appreciate, or shows on topics they like, and they want the music to be available, transferable and easy to manipulate.

Developers want to include audio in their software—and not just for decoding and playback. Rich-media creation tools are only possible in the open-source world with open-media standards and patent-free algorithms like Ogg Vorbis. Including Vorbis into software is easy (it takes little time for a programmer to write a playback plug-in even if they are new to Vorbis and the Vorbis plug-in API).

If there is content being produced in Vorbis and applications all support Vorbis, the user probably won't even notice. Ease of use is achieved with transparency. Years from now, we might still be calling on-line music “MP3” just as some people still call making photocopies “Xeroxing”, but the technology will come from different sources.

How You Can Help

Just like any open-source project, Vorbis reaches its full potential only with the help of the community. Programmers, audiophiles, musicians and evangelists are all needed. Encode some music with Vorbis, listen to Vorbis files and let us know if you hear anything that isn't in the original. Artifacts, once someone identifies them, are usually easily fixed. If you currently have a project that could (or does) play or encode audio, try Vorbis. Not only will the audience for Vorbis grow, but users will appreciate the functionality that Vorbis offers. Instead of creating music and putting it on-line in MP3, do it in Vorbis. By producing Vorbis files, you avoid limitations that patent holders enforce, and you increase user demand for Vorbis. Tell your friends, family and coworkers about Vorbis. Any effort to promote open standards like Vorbis for Internet audio is time well spent. And at this infant stage in Vorbis' life, we could really use the help.