Monday, February 16, 2009

iTunes and the use of Codecs

The first article in my series entitled "Music-ie" deals with codecs. What is a codec? The short answer is it is a file type. If you have the newest version of Office you will know that new word documents are saved as .docx file types where as older versions were stored as .doc only. The same applies to music files, there is just WAY more of them to deal with. Here are just a few:
  1. .mp3
  2. .wav
  3. .wma
  4. .wmv
  5. .m4a
  6. .mp4
  7. .mpp
  8. .ogg
  9. .ra
  10. .rm
If you want to go to a site that has an even bigger list visit: codec central.

So, now you can start to understand the predicament of finding a code that is universally accepted. For example, .mp4 is a type of codec used by Apple Inc. for their iTunes music player and the ever popular iPod. However, .wmv is Microsoft's codec for their Windows Media Player and the lesser known Zune. Are they compatible? Short answer - sort of, but don't count on it.

For example, if you like to watch Netflix on your home computer, you will need to download Windows Media Player. Then if you have an iPod, you can't beat the powerful playlists and organization of iTunes. To add a further degree of complexity if you have a smart phone you made need one or the other of the above or even a completely different piece of software to load songs on it. Then, if you have a Sonos or Squeezebox system at home, well there you go. You now have a lot of players, that take a lot of different codecs. How do you keep it all straight?

Short answer - with a lot of work. However, there is a way to sort thru it all. The good news is that .mp3 is probably the most universally recognized codec (format) of any compressed music. With a music converter you can make sure all your files are .mp3, giving you the greatest degree of flexibility between players. However, going this way has its draw backs and you need to make a life decision here. When you download music from say iTunes store (for example) it is usually locked up with a little tag that prevents you from converting it. That's why you have to "authorize" your computer to play the music. Apple has started to sell some music that doesn't have this though. However, if you must buy online, try Amazon. Their music store sells in the ever popular .mp3 format. The one problem...mp3 doesn't necessarily sound the best. The solution, buy the CD. CDs are still the best sound out there. Why? Because they are not compressed...more on that next post

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