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Surround sound via MP3

While the public is using the MP3 audio format in increasing numbers, many broadcast and recording engineers have been hesitant to use the audio file format due to its lack of 5.1 support and other factors.

But that may be changing. Soon the format may allow broadcasters to easily exchange and send audio files via the Internet. MP3 is a digital audio encoding standard, and is part of the MPEG-1 and MPEG-2 audio specifications finalized by the International Standards Organization (ISO) in 1994.

Since then MP3 has become a very popular audio compression standard. It takes a standard audio file, such as .WAV or .AIFF, and creates a small digital file with only a small quality loss. Once an audio source is digitized via a computer, MP3 files can be sent through the Internet, posted on a Web site or downloaded and used in a portable player.

Soon MP3 files could sound even better thanks to The Fraunhofer Institute in Europe. The research and educational organization has recently perfected the technology to reproduce surround sound from MP3 audio files.

The new format addition, MP3 Surround, permits the representation of 5.1 sound at bitrates that are comparable to those currently used for stereo. The new encoding stream technology records additional descriptive information about where sounds are supposed to come from, as well as time delay information. The institute said the new technology is fully compatible with existing MP3 software and audio players.

The surround sound MP3 technology arose out of a project that the Fraunhofer Institute showcased at the Cebit technology fair in Hanover, Germany, last year. The organization's Web site has a wealth of information on the technology including white papers and free demo software.

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