Ogg Vorbis plays with hardware support

An open-source, royalty-free audio format may finally appear in audio players alongside MP3 and Windows Media Audio
Written by Matthew Broersma, Contributor

Ogg Vorbis, an audio format created to provide a royalty-free alternative to MP3, could at last be making its way into portable digital audio players.

The format reached a milestone 1.0 release earlier this year, and now the Xiph.org Foundation, which coordinates Ogg development, has released an open-source Ogg player that will work with ordinary digital music player hardware. Xiph has also offered to give hardware makers free engineer time to help them integrate the format into their offerings.

Ogg Vorbis is an open-source project generated by volunteer developers around the world, in a fashion similar to the Linux operating system. Unlike most mainstream audio formats, including MPEG-2 layer 3 (better known as MP3), Ogg does not use patented technology, allowing it to be offered under an open-source licence. This means that developers can have free access to the software and its original source code, and can modify and redistribute the software, as long as any modifications are returned to the community.

Software and hardware companies who make MP3 player and encoder software, by contrast, must pay royalty fees to the format's patent holders for each piece of software they distribute.

While Ogg has been added to some PC-based music software, until now no hardware vendor has supported it, with the exception of Sharp's Linux-based Zaurus handheld. This is because Ogg players have only been designed to work with processors capable of performing floating-point calculations, which is common to PC processors but absent from the embedded hardware typically in music players.

On Monday night, however, Xiph.org released "Tremor", a version of the Ogg player that doesn't need a floating-point unit, allowing player manufacturers to support it for the first time. Tremor is released under a BSD-style open source licence, Xiph.org said.

The organisation emphasised that adding Ogg support would cost nothing in licence fees, and is offering to provide hardware makers with any engineering help they may need to integrate the format. Xiph's Emmett Plant added that there is substantial demand for Ogg hardware players from the format's enthusiasts. "A lot of people love Vorbis, and they need hardware players," he said in a statement.

Some hardware makers are already considering supporting Ogg, Xiph.org said, although none have committed to the format. Plant cited Hong Kong's Frontier Labs and iRiver among those who have shown interest.

Many hardware makers have said they are playing it safe, and waiting for Ogg to develop a large following before they devote any development work to the format. Evolution Technologies, for example, stated stated that it has not ruled out Ogg support, but is making no immediate moves: "When the demand is sufficient, we will support the technology."

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