By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
The mp3PRO compression format advanced its fortunes in recent weeks on multiple developments, including an agreement between Thomson Multimedia and mp3.com to offer mp3PRO content on a joint Web site.
No date has been set for the site's launch, but Thomson said an announcement would be made soon.
Mp3PRO, the enhanced backward-compatible version of mp3, doubles the music-storage capacity of portables, delivering 128kbps MP3 performance at a 64kbps datarate while extending high-frequency response.
In other developments, Thomson announced:
availability of an mp3PRO playback plug-in for the WinAmp music-player application,
availability of a consumer mp3PRO software encoder for PCs,
and licensing of InterTrust's digital rights management technology, signaling Thomson's plans to marry mp3PRO with the copyright-management technology to encourage music company support of the codec.
In separate announcements:
Texas Instruments said it licensed the mp3PRO codec, giving its manufacturer customers the green light to offer mp3PRO upgrades for select firmware-upgradable Internet audio portables. Those portables would have to use programmable TI DSPs that have the memory to accept the upgrade. The portables must also store audio codecs in flash memory rather than in ROM.
TI also said it would ship DSPs that support mp3PRO out of the box by the end of the year.
STMicroelectronics said it is developing a DSP-based mp3PRO decoder chip destined for portable music players expected to reach the market in early 2002.
Under the partnership agreement between Thomson and MP3.com, songs on the joint-venture Web site will include top hits of several genres in 32kbps and 80kbps quality. Both companies also agreed to make available the demonstration version of the mp3PRO encoder and the mp3PRO player plug-in for WinAmp player software.
The WinAmp plug-in is already available from www.thomson-multimedia.com, www.rca.com and the Thomson media search engine, www.singingfish.com. The originator of mp3PRO, Coding Technologies, offers the plug-in at www.codingtechnologies.com.
For consumers who want to rip their own mp3PRO files, Ahead Software of Germany released a new version of its Nero software, now with mp3PRO encoder. The product can be downloaded from www.nero.com.
Future hardware devices supporting mp3PRO will include Thomson's first hard-drive-based headphone portable, the 11-ounce 10GB Lyra Personal Jukebox. It will be launched at a suggested $299 at January's CES, at which time it will encode and decode only MP3 files. A downloadable mp3PRO upgrade will be available next spring.
The device not only stores hundreds of music albums, it also streamlines the ripping and storing process because users can skip the step of transferring music to a portable device after ripping and storing it to their PC's hard drive. The device can also be used as a remote hard drive to back up data files.
Thomson said it is unlikely that its flash-memory-based Lyra portables will be upgradable to mp3PRO but that its matchbox-size Kazoo might be.
Thomson and the Fraunhofer Institute, the co-developers of MP3, are working with a third company, Coding Technologies, to develop the mp3PRO codec. Coding is applying its codec enhancement technologies to the basic MP3 patents owned by Thomson and Fraunhofer.
The mp3PRO codec will support datarates of 32, 40, 48, 56, 64, 80 and 96 kbps in stereo. A datarate of 128kbps, which MP3 supports, won't be needed because 64kbps will deliver near-CD 128kbps MP3 quality, Thomson said.
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