Monday, August 07, 2006

Devices and open media formats

While the digital video and audio world is largely governed by more or less restricted formats like MP3 audio, MPEG-2/4 video, Windows Media, AAC etc., the openness of available truly open and royalty-free formats does not scare everyone. Among the interesting developments in both mobile and non-mobile devices I've find for example the following:
  • Iwod G10 sounds like an interesting device, at least as a concept, that can play FLAC files in addition to MP3 files, and also is able to play Nintendo games. Too bad the memory is expandable my only 1GB cards - hardly enough to play much lossless-compressed audio.
  • Volvo's Digital Jukebox supposedly provides your car with perfect-quality FLAC music too.
  • Olive Symphony looks like the most high-end device currently on the market that's just for playing digital music.
  • And last, as closest to my personal usage field, are the great music players by iAudio - all supporting at least Ogg Vorbis and (in the bigger devices) FLAC. iAudio 6 might be the perfect combination currently - small size, all important open music formats supported and enough storage capacity for moderate uses (4GB).
A lot more can be found on xiph.org's wiki (though it's mainly about Ogg Vorbis support). The main problem still is that AFAIK a very large majority of portable music player sales are governed by Ipod, which supports only restricted formats. I do appreciate the folks doing eg. iPod Linux, but I tend to think there's no support if there's no built-in support. The hardware manufacturers should start to stand behind open formats, and stop fighting each other on who has the most dominating restricted format they can ask license fees from. For example, even the largely likeable Nokia 770 lacks the support for Ogg audio and video, which means the manufacturer for some reason or other does not want to support "openness" in some fronts yet, while it clearly is very open and standards-endorsing in some other fronts. But Nokia is not in the music or video business as such, and business-wise it's always easiest to just support the mainstream formats, restricted or not. It's the pure audio-video entertainment device manufacturers that should start to support open formats first.

As a sidenote, it was nice to see this year's Assembly's video broadcasts in completely open Ogg Theora video format. I bet they have had some need for heavy hardware though, since unlike eg. Ogg Vorbis lossy audio codec and FLAC lossless audio codec, Theora is not really a completely optimized codec at this point, though the latest release improved a bit. But with Fluendo's very fluent (eh) combination of Cortado Java applet and Flumotion, it's now really easy to provide open media streams even though the battling proprietary operating systems (Windows and Mac OS) do not support anything open. This is how it should be - giving the open option to anyone as easily as possibly, and then at some point people could notice that why they need to use Java applets for playing something that plays in any free software operating system (like Linux or the BSDs) without any problems.
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