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Improved MP3 Expected In 2nd Half: Thomson

LAS VEGAS -Thomson and the Fraunhofer Institute, the co-developers of MP3, are working with a third company to develop an improved MP3 codec intended to deliver 128-Kbps MP3 performance at a 64-Kbps data rate.

The new codec, dubbed mp3PRO, would almost double the music-storage capacity of MP3.

Thomson announced the plans during the Consumer Electronics Show, here, where the company demonstrated a beta version of the codec. Thomson said it believes the codec will be finalized in about 90 days and available in products during the second half.

Content encoded in mp3PRO can be played back in a traditional MP3 player but without the quality enhancement. Also, mp3PRO decoders will be able to decode standard MP3. The new codec can also be used for streaming.

Like MP3, mp3PRO will be open and available for licensing. “We expect this to be the new MP3,” said Rocky Caldwell, strategic business development and product planning manager for audio.

The company acknowledged that the primary driver behind the upgrade was competition from other codecs, including Windows Media Audio, that purport to offer equivalent or better sound quality at half the MP3 data rate.

In the second half, Thomson plans to offer a firmware upgrade to add mp3PRO to its existing two Lyra portable players, said Caldwell. It might also be included in the planned Lyra III, the smallest Lyra yet, when it ships in late Q3, said Tim DiGioia, audio marketing director for the Americas. If not, it will be available later as a firmware upgrade.

Thomson also hopes to include an mp3PRO decoder in a trio of CD-based products due later in the year, but they might ship only with MP3. One is a shelf system due in the third quarter, complementing a $399-suggested five-disc shelf system due in January with MP3 decoding.

The mp3PRO codec might also be in a CD boombox due in September to complement an MP3-CD boombox due in July at a suggested $179.

The third product would be a $179-suggested headphone CD player due in Q4, replacing a larger $170 MP3 version due February.

The codec might be offered in PCs available in the second half, said worldwide audio VP Mark Redmond.

“You might see mp3PRO from other companies at the end of the year,” Caldwell added.