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MP3 goes 5.1 surround sound with backwards compatibility

Another major CeBIT premiere was the next generation of MP3 technology demonstrated by the Fraunhofer Institute - MP3 Surround technology, which provides a multi-channel listening experience with minimum effort and maximum compatibility. MP3 Surround allows the reproduction of high-quality multichannel sound at bit rates comparable to those currently used to encode stereo MP3 material. Most importantly, the new format offers complete backward compatibility to existing MP3 software and devices: MP3 Surround bit streams are played back as high-quality stereo sound on all current MP3 players. When decoded by MP3 Surround decoders, however, the new format produces full 5.1 channel surround sound! These astounding features are realised by a revolutionary technical approach based on the MP3 standard: MP3 Surround technology encodes multichannel sound by transmitting a stereo audio signal that carries a compatible stereo down mix of the multi-channel material. In addition, a small amount of side information is transmitted characterizing the spatial distribution and attributes of the multi-channel sound image. MP3 Surround was developed by Fraunhofer IIS in collaboration with Agere Systems (www.agere.com). 'Enjoying personal multi-channel audio has been on the wish list of the MP3 user community for quite some time. This is exactly what MP3 Surround has to offer - and it does so at astoundingly low bit rates,' says J'rgen Herre, Chief Executive Scientist of the Audio & Multimedia departments of Fraunhofer IIS in Germany. The new technology enables the user to play back both stereo or surround music from the same MP3 Surround files. This allows for a wide range of MP3 Surround applications such as broadcasting systems or web-based music distribution. Currently a number of commercial music download services offer their music in MP3 stereo. Such services can be seamlessly extended to provide multi-channel MP3, and yet they remain compatible with stereo equipment. The same applies to Internet radios that will be able to stream multi-channel content with little more effort than for stereo broadcasting. Beyond any doubt, this is another milestone in the ongoing success of MP3. The first MP3 Surround software solutions are expected to be available by mid 2004.

About the Author
Mike Hanlon After Editing or Managing over 50 print publications primarily in the role of a Magazine Doctor, Mike embraced the internet full-time in 1995 and became a "start-up all-rounder" – quite a few start-ups later, he founded Gizmag in 2002. Now he can write again.   All articles by Mike Hanlon
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