Texas Instruments said it is licensing Thomson Multimedia's MP3Pro format, which compresses standard audio tracks without significantly compromising sound quality. Manufacturers will be able to support the new format by updating their Internet audio devices using Texas Instruments' DSPs (digital signaling processors), which handle audio and video compression in real time.
"It makes sense that TI will support it. They support everyone, and so it was a matter of time before they supported it to show how flexible their DSP is," said P.J. McNealy, a media analyst for GartnerG2, a division of research firm Gartner. "But I don't necessarily see hardware manufacturers or consumers demanding support for this because there's so many codecs out there and this one isn't leaps and bounds better than the rest."
Forthcoming music-subscription services such as Pressplay and MusicNet, which are backed by the major record labels, have yet to adopt MP3Pro. They have instead struck deals to use rival digital music formats from companies such as Microsoft and RealNetworks. Until label-backed services pick up MP3Pro, there's not going to be "screaming demand for it," McNealy said.
Still, Thomson Multimedia and the Fraunhofer Institute, the companies behind the digital music format, have been interested some software and hardware developers in the new technology. MP3.com signed on last week to make songs available in MP3Pro on a joint Web site with Thomson. A new plug-in for AOL Time Warner's Winamp online music player is also available from various Thomson sites. In addition, InterTrust has integrated MP3Pro with its digital rights management platform, Thomson said.
Launched in June, MP3Pro includes a new player and "ripper," or file creator, which enables music fans to create near-CD quality digital music files around half the size of the previous format. In addition, MP3Pro files will work with software and devices based on MP3, Thomson said.
MP3Pro files are recorded differently from the previous format, however, and the new files may sound worse on systems designed for standard MP3s. MP3Pro uses two separate streams of data to improve audio quality; only one of those streams can be detected by older players.
Support for the MP3Pro by Texas Instruments "is instrumental in helping us expand our reach to portable Internet audio devices and will help to carryover the momentum of MP3 to the more advanced MP3Pro," Henri Linde, vice president of new business, patent and licensing unit for Thomson Multimedia, said in a statement.
Research analyst Susan Kevorkian of IDC agreed that to keep sales high it's important for consumer electronics manufacturers to build devices that support an array of the emerging file formats.