What the heck is an...

Ear this... Ogg Vorbis And, Ear that

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Ogg Vorbis will likely be considered one of the most exciting developments in music history. As a creator of music, nothing is more important than getting your music heard. But, how can a creator of music be sure that the music he produces today isn't restricted in the future?

With the advent of MP3, I thought this problem was solved. It was not until this year that I came to a full understanding of what freedom really means. As it turns out, several individuals and companies plan to restrict the use of MP3's. Starting this year some of the patent holders to particular MP3 technologies plan on enforcing their property rights. As a creator of music, I will be restricted in my efforts to "get the music heard."

Ogg Vorbis to the rescue! Ogg Vorbis is truly open source and royalty free. A musician can create Ogg files and never have to worry about the music being restricted or money being extorted!

"Oh, all the kids are switching over to Ogg. The kids are smart. They know it is a better file format than MP3 -- it is faster to download and requires less storage space."
-- Dr. Sidd Mukherjee, Ohio State

Chris "Monty" Montgomery is accused of bearing the brain child known as Ogg Vorbis. He has agreed to this rock n' roll style interview about digital music:

Q: Monty, how long have you been working on Ogg Vorbis?

The beginnings of Ogg, before it was named Ogg, were in 1993. Vorbis and the Ogg code of today started in fall of 1998 shortly after Fraunhofer decided to 'take back' mp3 and threatened to sue all the free mp3 projects out of existence.

Q: What made you decide to work on a music related project... don't you know that there is no money for the creators in the music business?

If I cared about money, I'd be retired already and terminally bored.

I'm a musician, and used to be a serious one (serious, but not very good). I wanted to mix and master recordings digitally on my new, unbelievably powerful 486DX50 running Linux, but I only had about 800M of disk, the biggest disk I could afford.

Ogg started because I needed it, it was interesting, and I wasn't going to find it anywhere else.

Mp3 existed then, but the only encoders worth using were impossibly expensive for a student. The dist10 encoder was useless. Blade wasn't much better. LAME didn't exist. It was Fraunhofer mp3enc or nothing, and I didn't have the money, so it was nothing.

Nothing turned into Ogg, and Ogg turned out to be a lot more interesting than the music I was working on.

Q: How massive of a project has it been? Can you tell me more about the people that have helped you?

Not a massive project, just a long one. People who have been involved have been friends who also found it interesting and other on the net who also needed Ogg, but needed some part that didn't exist yet. Good hackers don't complain when they need something that doesn't exist, they write what they need.

Q: I'd hate to see Ogg Vorbis go away. How can it be financially viable in the long run? How will it support itself?

Ogg Vorbis will never go away. The code is there, the format is there and nothing will ever undo that. I expect you mean that you want it to keep getting better....

I have few worries about seeing Ogg improve. Right now, there are enough individuals who both want to see it improve and have, themselves, the skill to improve it. At some point, the consumer electronic, software and music industries will also see that the continuance of Ogg is in their interests, and they will contribute to Ogg as well, even if it's not necessarily directly to the core Free project.

Until that critical mass happens, we'll probably do just fine on the contributions from people who are mostly interested in the tax write-off :-)

Q: Ogg Vorbis uses a technology called VBR (variable bit rate).

It's not so much a technology as a description. It's like calling the color red a technology.

This is great for allowing listeners a smoother listening experience over the internet. But, another important role of VBR is conservation, correct? I mean will overall server space and bandwidth be reduced making the Internet a better place for everyone?

Size and quality are always related in a lossy perceptual codec like mp3, WMA or Ogg. When a compression, like Ogg, improves on the current state of the art, it fits more information into a physical number of bits. So you can put it either way: "Ogg files can be smaller and sound just as good", or "Ogg files sound better for the same size."

What VBR does is prevent wasting bits on stupidly encoding unnecessary information just because we *must* fill the space *now*. We can use the saved space later for harder parts (increasing quality for the same size), or we can hoard the savings (decreasing size for the same quality).

Q: The name Ogg Vorbis -- is there any chance that you will place restrictions on using the name in the future? Though I understand the technology is to be patent free, does this also mean that I needn't ever worry about having to rename all my .ogg files in the future?

We will not restrict the name, but we will smack anyone who creates something that's not compatible and calls it 'Ogg Vorbis'. Anyone who builds a workalike is welcome to use the name (and the logo).

Q: We've been experimenting with the fidelity of .ogg files. Our latest experiment involves a "live album." It was recorded as a 40 minute long, 48kHz stereo .wav file. Can I achieve the highest "audible" fidelity by encoding using the default settings on the Ogg encoder? Or, should try a setting it higher than 128 kbps?

As of beta 4, I personally encode at 160kbps. Because 1.0 has channel coupling, the encoder gets lots more 'free' bits to work with, so the unreleased test encoder I have right now I use at 96kbps and 128kbps for 'hi fi'.

Q: As a follow up to that question, will the Ogg Vorbis format only use as many kbps as is necessary to get the highest fidelity? If so, shouldn't I encode all files at the highest kbps setting available? (which is 350 kbps on the encoder that I am using.)

beta 4 is actually using 'quality modes' that are pure VBR and just happen to average particular bitrates. In 1.0, you'll be able to select real bitrates or these pure VBR quality modes.

The various quality modes progressively 'back off' the psychoacoustic model so that, for higher quality, the model is increasingly conservative. The reason is that no model, including the very good one in Vorbis, is perfect, and mistakes might be audible.

By using a higher quality mode, you reduce the likelihood of the model making an audible mistake. The tradeoff is that it uses more bits.

Q: Part three of this question is -- will the file size always be directly proportional to the length in time of a music file. (i.e. If a 15 minute piece of music is approximately a 12.5M Ogg file (at 128kbps), will a 30 minute piece be about 25M?)

For the same bitrate, yes. Bitrate is not a measurement of quality, it's a measure of size even if our own current encoder fudges the distinction. 1.0 will not fudge.

Q: Our goal is to have a music video for every song. However, we have not been able to find a comparable file format to Ogg Vorbis for video. (The next best thing that we can find is MPEG2.)

Yeah, we know.

Do you know if such a beast exists? (I've heard rumors that your group is working on a project called "Tarkin.")

We are indeed working on a project called Tarkin. The project is only in a research stage, and there is no released code (and no release currently planned). Aside from being technically very different from audio, the video patent minefield is also currently harder to navigate.

Q: And, what about the name? How do you say it? Like egg nog... egg ogg?

Yup, that works.



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Some Ogg Artists
The Beatless Sense Mongers | Listening Deficit | FREEdanCE
Play The Name Game

More Ogg Info.
Back to the Rock N' Roll Romper Room
Test Your Computer's Sound
Official Ogg Vorbis Website and Player Download
Some Free Ogg Vorbis Music

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