Compressed Audio, Genesis: The Beginning And The Era Of MP3
A little under ten years ago, MPEG-1 layer-3 audio compression technology hit the technology community and, a bit later, the Internet. The ability to encode a 30 MByte .wav CD audio rip into a file around 3 MBytes was not only space saving, but amazing in its own right.
The MP3 era had begun. Websites/services such as Scour.net allowed relatively easy sharing of music files over the Internet. MP3 soon became part of the Internet vernacular as well as most Internet users' music library. With the adoption of Napster by the masses and the following creation of the "Napster Music Community," MP3 became the most widely accepted standard for compressed audio.
WMA: What Microsoft Has To Offer
Through recent releases of Microsoft Media Player, Microsoft has been trying to push its coveted WMA compression codec. The codec boasts higher quality and smaller file sizes at the same bit-rate of a comparable MP3. Microsoft hopes to win the hearts of the Internet audio community by providing encoding and decoding tools free to owners of Windows.
Dolby's Creation: AAC
AAC (Advanced Audio Coding) is Dolby's offering to the music community. ACC intends to offer "up to 48 channels of audio, sample rates of up to 96 kHz, and can achieve ITU-R broadcast quality at 320 kbps for a 5.1-channel audio program," according to various press releases. Compared to MP3, it claims to be of higher quality, at roughly 30% less storage space and bandwidth. It has been standardized under the MPEG-2 specification.
As the time from AAC inception grows, so does the number of its supporters. Various software and hardware companies are jumping on the bandwagon to develop and manufacture products that support AAC.