Digital audio on the Internet is one of those things where unregulated corporate excesses are rampant. Several large companies have patented, or otherwise control, this important aspect of human communication. At Touchstone Radio we attempt to provide our listeners with as many choices in this area as possible.
There are many different formats for storing and delivering audio over the Internet. There are advantages and disadvantages to each. Naturally, you will have to choose one that can be played on your computer. Here is a brief outline of those we support, and relevant comments for each.
Ogg Vorbis is a strange sounding name, but it is without question the best choice for audio over the Internet. This method is totally free of all corporate control — it is a publicly reproducible, non-patented, method. No corporation can ever take control of this format.
It is certainly possible that some company can charge you for software to play this. However, nothing can stop other companies from including it for free. There are no licensing fees, and the current license guarantees that there never will be. Also, anyone can encode content in this format without restriction, and can serve it over the Internet without restriction. If you are a progressive minded person, this is really the choice you should be looking at.
Best of all, Ogg Vorbis is widely considered to be the highest quality method of digital audio encoding. For more information about this important new medium, and the freedom-loving people behind it, you can visite their web site at http://www.xiph.org.
Most other forms of Internet digital audio are rigidly controlled by large corporations. Please use Ogg Vorbis if you can. If you cannot, we hope you can still enjoy our content with one of the following:
Also known as "MPEG Audio Layer 3", this method is very widely used for storing music on computers. When songs are taken from compact disks and stored in this format, the quality can be adequate for casual listeners, without taking up too much computer storage space. This has led the MP3 format to great popularity — You can buy small hand-held devices that play MP3 files, and most computers have the ability to play these files. But this ability comes at a great social cost.
The cost to society is that the MP3 format is patented. The patent is currently owned by a company called Fraunhofer IIS. Fraunhofer charges a royalty for every portable MP3 player. Fraunhofer also tries, with mixed success, to prohibit unlicensed software from creating MP3 files. Additionally, they charge a royalty for any server that provides MP3 content over the Internet.
Currently, Fraunhofer allows an exception to non-profit and personal content provides, so Touchstone Radio is allowed to provide MP3 format, and we do. However, Fraunhofer could change the rules at any time.
MP4 is a format that was meant to be the successor to MP3. It has higher quality than MP3, but suffers from all the same drawbacks based on patents and proprietary control.
All of the audio formats described above are "lossy". That is, they throw away some (usually unaudible) sounds so that they files take up less space and are faster to send over the Internet. Although they are fine for casual listening, if you want archive quality audio saving the original is better, because converting from one lossy format to another can cause problems.
Flac is a patent-free, open, format that is non-proprietary and well documented.
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