Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

DRM-protected MP3s?

CNet reports that Thomson, who created the MP3 format and owns the patent on it, intends to extend the format to add DRM to it. This means it can be used for selling music, like WMA and AAC are at present.
I’d normally stick this kind of news story in Smaller World, but I want to add my 2 cents. I really don’t know why Thomson are bothering with this. MP3, when stacked up against WMA and AAC, is by far the worst format. It’s been around for years now, whereas the other two are much newer formats that have received a lot of work over the years to make them better. A 128Kbps WMA will sound much sharper and more natural than a 128Kbps MP3 file, for example.
Next, there’s the issue of compatibility. While this new format is based on MP3, normal music programs won’t be able to play back these files unless they are rewritten to support it or have a plugin installed that can decode them. The likes of Winamp, iTunes, Windows Media Player et al will all need new versions or new add-ins before they can play these files. It’s a re-hash of the problems with mp3PRO, which will only play in Winamp with an add-on plugin, and as such mp3PRO is now largely ignored as a format.
Then there’s the availability of the decoder itself – it’s not due out until the end of this year, and will only be available to those who license the official decoder. If your favourite player uses an unofficial decoder, like MAD or XAudio, you may be stuck.
The whole thing seems like a pointless exercise that will only confuse people. We already have two variants of DRM-protected AAC, along with WMA – do we really need another format, particularly one that isn’t that good anyway?

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