A multifaceted sound compression technology is now a standard, smoothing its way to use in technologies such as Web-based voice chats and videoconferencing. Next up: video?
Stephen Shanklandprincipal writer
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"Opus is the first state-of-the-art, free audio codec to be standardized. We think this will help us achieve wider adoption than prior royalty-free codecs," Jean-Marc Valin, a Mozilla employee and author of Opus, said in a blog post today.
Voice and video calls are a particular area of interest; Opus was born out of work at Skype, now owned by Microsoft, and the Xiph.org Foundation. Opus is paired with WebRTC, a nascent standard for Web-based real-time communication
Opus combines two audio codecs, one for lower-quality audio on lower-bandwidth connections, and one for higher-quality network circumstances. It's also geared to have very low latency, meaning fewer awkward pauses in online chat while waiting for your words to reach the other parties. And it can combine both codecs when conditions are right to improve overall sound quality.
Codecs are a thorny political, technical, and legal matters -- the latter difficulty most clearly illustrated by the popular video codec, H.264 aka AVC. It requires a patent license in most circumstances, and its successor, H.265 aka HEVC, presumably will also. That license raises a royalty roadblock that's problematic for open-source software and means technology fundamental to the Internet's use isn't freely available.