Ogg Vorbis is an audio codec developed to compete with mp3. It is completely patent and royalty free. It features variable bitrate encoding, stereo sound, psychoacoustics, and more. The code is currently being developed, but it looks good so far.

Info is at http://www.vorbis.com/.

In a non-scientific test, a 128 kbps Ogg sounded as good to me and my audiophile (and musician) cow-orker as a 256 kbit mp3. It seemed to be a bit heavy on the high-end, but after a bit of experimentation, we discovered that this was caused by the player. It upped the high-end to compensate for mp3s crushing it - but since Ogg Vorbis is more faithful, the player ended up overcompensating.

Ogg Vorbis is an open source audio codec developed by the Xiphophorus company. Their website is www.xiph.org/ogg. The codec was designed from the ground up to be an open source alternative to all the proprietary audio codecs out there like MP3 and Real Media. It supports many advanced features such as variable bitrate encoding. It is currently in it's infancy and therefore has a few limitations. Encoders binaries are currently only available for Windows, Linux, and BeOS. It does not, as of this writing, have its own player. Instead it relies on playback plugins that are currently only available for Windows players Winamp and Sonique, MacOS player Audion, and Linux player XMMS. Other limitations include the inability to encode at bitrates lower than 128 kbps and lack of web streaming support. All this will probably change in the future.

After reading on Slashdot that the Ogg plugin and encoder were available I decided to check it out. I was actually very impressed with the results. The Winamp plugin required manual installation (whereas most Winamp plugins use Nullsoft's PiMP installer), but the "installation" meant just moving one file to a certain directory. After installation Winamp plays .OGG files just as well as it plays MP3s. The encoder was simply one executable and one DLL. While the encoder is just a simple command line program, it was very easy to use. All you need to do is type oogenc filename.wav and it will encode the file to a variable bitrate .OGG. If you want to encode at different bitrates you just need to tack on a parameter. My only complaint about the encoder is that it is fairly slow. I usually use Xing's encoder to make MP3s which can encode an MP3 in less than two minutes. The OGG encoder took about 7 minutes to encode a 6 minute song. Then came the real test: A 192 kbps MP3 and a variable bitrate .OGG of the same song going head to head. I think Ogg was the winner. I heard almost no difference between the two files. The .OGG was also about a megabyte smaller.

Considering how young this project is and that it was developed by open source developers and not some major corporation, I believe that Xiphophorus has done an amazing job. Despite drawbacks like slow encoding and lack of platform support, the software is still in beta and can only get better. Unlike VQF et al, Ogg is actually a viable MP3 alternative. I think it will gain popularity, but only if they can achieve more platform support. Since it is open source, that won't be hard.

Ogg Vorbis's name comprises the name of the File format (ogg) and the name of the stream format (vorbis for audio). The Ogg file format will soon (or not-so-soon, depending on how many developers this node attracts) feature support for:

Right now, ogg vorbis has these advantages over mp3:

  • A tagging system that is both well-thought out and extensible.
  • Support for concatenation of two streams without clicks or noise in between them.
  • Better audio quality at lower bitrates

Also, as ogg vorbis is in development, many of the drawbacks Lethal criticised above are no longer valid. The 1.0 Release Candidate 2 of the vorbis codec features (among other good things):

Plug-ins for just about any architecture and audio player are available - Even for QuickTime and for DirectShow (which enables Windows Media Player to play ogg vorbis files).
The ogg vorbis home page can be found at
http://www.vorbis.com

Sources:

  • http://www.vorbis.com
  • about half a year of reading vorbis@ and vorbis-dev@xiph.org
  • http://www.xiph.org

Ogg Vorbis is an open and patent-free (at least hopefully; several companies have done patent checks on the technology used) lossy audio codec, developed as a replacement for such things as mp3, mp3pro and AAC.

Although hardware Vorbis devices are almost non-existant, the codec is supported by almost all current ripping and/or playback software, and with the advent of version 1.0, released on July 19, 2002 along with a complete specification, it looks likely that it will soon have at least some portable audio player support within a few months. Almost all current versions of audio players support it, such as WinAmp, XMMS, Windows Media Player and iTunes (although the latter two require you to download a seperate plugin, annoyingly enough). Xenex tells me the iTunes vorbis support "is a horrible hack. The files have to have .mov extensions, and there is no tag editing."

It has been developed by the Xiph.Org Foundation, who also provide source code to both a reference encoder (for use in creating the vorbis files) and a decoder (for use in actually playing them), although other groups will be developing compatible decoders (and hopefully encoders, too) based on the provided specification. Note that while the decoder implements the entire specification, the present encoder does not use certain portions of it, meaning that it may improve quite considerably in the future without breaking backward compatibility (and hence compatibility with, for instance, hardware implementations).

Want to start encoding your files to vorbis? If you're on Windows, grab oggdrop and simply drag-and-drop .WAV files to encode them. Otherwise, grab oggenc, a command-line encoder. Also, the majority of free GUI CD ripping applications support vorbis now, EAC and CDex being the two major free Windows CD ripping tools (both of which support it).

The file extension is .ogg; however, don't assume that all files with this extension are vorbis! These files can also include still images, video and text, among many other things; the Ogg file format is a very generic one. Note that Ogg Tarkin and other Xiph.org video codecs use Vorbis for their audio, so the likelihood is that at least the majority of .ogg files will at least contain a vorbis stream (which should play in any vorbis-capable player, albeit without the extra video/image/text content in most cases).

What are the advantages of Vorbis? In a sentence: It's open, with a full specification, there is a full implementation available which means you can use it without having to purchase or write an encoding/decoding engine, there are no patent problems to worry about (no licensing fees!), there is a flexible tagging standard (allowing for custom fields of almost unlimited length), it is generally accepted to provide higher quality at lower bitrates than any other audio codec available and it is slicable ("bitrate peeling", meaning you can simply chop a file up to obtain a lower-bitrate version of it, rather than having to re-encode it, losing quality in the process if you don't have the original file). The last is especially useful for streaming purposes.

Xiph.org have also developed a integer-based decoder (the decoder mentioned above is based on floating-point), for use in embedded applications such as portable audio players. They used to charge a license fee for this, as a source of funding for the rest of xiph.org's activities, however they have recently relicensed it under belowmentioned BSD license. There is currently at least one other (independent) integer-based decoder available, however it is GPLed and as such unusable for many commercial uses, and also incomplete, which may cause it to fail to decode certain files correctly.

The Xiph.org library source code, which is licensed under a BSD-like license (complete with advertising clause) consists of libvorbis, the core library, libvorbisenc, a wrapper library for the encoder portions of the library, and libvorbisfile, a wrapper library intended to simplify manipulation of the streams. Utilities such as oggenc, the encoder, and ogg123, the standard decoder/player, have also been released, under the LGPL license.

It is very simple to integrate into applications, and many programs at least support it, if not use it by default; for instance, modern versions of the Unreal and Serious Sam game engines use it for their audio, as do many new audio tools.

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