Monday, April 28, 2003

So -- what options do I use if I want to re-encode my entire CD collection as AAC? It appears that AAC doesn't do variable bit rate or maybe that is only available in QuickTime Pro?

I have no idea. I previously had used 256kbit/sec encoded MP3s. Given the claimed increase in quality of AAC, I'm thinking I can drop the bitrate to up the # of songs I can cram onto the server (and make backing everything up that much easier).

Unfortunately, I really don't have the time or equipment to do a serious double-blind test as I did with MP3. (For the record, I found that the QuickTimes encoder performed acceptably well at 256kbit/sec. LAME sounds better but was-- at the time-- too much of a pain in the ass to use. It was also interesting to note the iTunes [QT?] MP3 decoder does [did] not sound as good as either Audion or the iPod.)

Then again, I have all the source material. Maybe I'll just rip everything to 160 or 192 kbps AAC and be done with it. Until I have a chance to play with both encoding & playback on the Macs + playback on iPod, I have no idea what the magic configuration/number will be.

Similarly, the encoder explicitly mentions that it is optimized for the AltiVec engine available on the G4. Does that translate into a pure speed increase or does it also affect the encoding quality?

Too early to tell -- I wish I had some really good technical documentation on all of this!
6:31:18 PM  pontificate    

When you turn on sharing in iTunes for the first time, you are presented with the following dialog box. DRM done right -- nice!

Shared music collections cannot have songs dragged out-- you can't drag a song from your friend's music share into your library. Given that the whole thing is based on streaming-- see previous post-- it would have required coding engineering effort to support creating a local copy of the song.... it isn't like Apple worked to disable the ability to copy the songs.

Update: The mp4-- the AAC encoded files-- purchased from the Apple Music Store do use digital rights management (as discussed in the various marketing material). Up to three computers can be "authorized" to play content purchased through any one .mac account.

What isn't clear is how to re-download a track if, say, you blow up your hard drive.

(Regardless of authorization, tracks burned to CDR as normal Audio CDs do not have any kind of DRM type additions. You can burn a CDR and play that disc in any CD player that can read CDRs (some older Audio players can't deal).

Obviously, it will be interesting to learn of the technical details of the implementation used to authorize up to three computers for playback of the tracks. How does iPod integration work? If I can copy a song to any number of iPods, that implies that either the iPod is "keyed" to decode all DRM'd tracks, the track is de-DRM'd upon being placed upon the iPod or some other bit of magic is going on.

I can definitely see how Apple's Music Store could become a kind of Crack for Music Lovers.

Individual tracks are effectively a micro-payment-- $1 -- away. Got friend's over? One of 'em mentions something about that new Orb track? No problem-- you can pick it up and a couple of others for less than a bottle of cheap wine! The sound quality is pretty damned good in the limited testing I have done so far. Full albums cost less than the retail versions and a CD Single's--- 4 to 5 songs-- worth of content is cheaper, as well (and you don't have to suffer through three nearly identical mixes of the same bloody song).

Decoupling the consumer from the realities of the amount of money they are spending over the long term is almost always a winning formula....
4:59:20 PM  pontificate    


So, I see that there are those already complaining that the music store is not available outside the US and, as usual, blaming Apple. Apparently, they have not a freakin' clue how many legal hurdles Apple likely had to jump through to implement the music service legally in the US. The hurdles for doing so across overseas markets are considerably more complex-- the distribution rights are affected not only be targeted country, but also by who owns the distribution rights in said country and what other distribution deals may be in affect.

There are no clear cut lines in those cases -- the US is the most straightforward media distribution market on the planet in that there is a single government and a single set of media companies to deal with for basically all distribution rights.

Europe is a bloody nightmare by comparison-- not only do you have a bunch of relatively small national territories with which the media companies have to negotiate distribution rights, each one of those territories often has some kind of a local media company for which the external media company must also strike a deal. Combine that with the differing ratings and "acceptable content" that can range anywhere from basic limits on nudity and language through to limits imposed by religious beliefs, and the entire distribution problem becomes extraordinarily complex into such regions.

So, it should come as no surprise that Apple's initial foray into online music distribution is limited to the US -- even distribution into Canada implies a different set of contractual issues to be worked through.

I'm just happy I'm lucky enough to live in the test market.


Exactly how does Apple's billing cycle through the music store work? It looks like I can purchase a single track for $.99 and never spend another cent.

What deal did Apple work out with the credit card companies to allow for the authorization and execution of micropayments? In my experience (having deployed quite a few e-commerce solutions), the contracts with the CC clearing houses are specifically written to discourage such actions.

Music Sharing on your LAN

(This is actually old news -- but now it is backed by a real implementation) It is interesting to note that the rendezvous style music sharing features in iTunes does not involve using a mounted filesystem.

While there will be those [likely same] folks complaining that this is just Apple's way of preventing piracy-- of making the media companies happy-- there are actually some good reasons for using streaming vs. mounted filesystems (beyond making the media company's happy-- given the music biz, that is certainly not to be overlooked!):

  • Security: Not having a mounted filesystem means that you don't have to worry about a crafty person being able to deduce secrets from the mounted filesystem. If you have your music library scattered about-- across multiple disks, whatever-- it also means that the serving computer doesn't have to anything magical to make the relevant parts of all of the filesystems available
  • Efficiency: By using streaming, the client computer can buffer in a fashion that is appropriate to music playback. This is a different buffering style than that typically used by a filesystem. In particular, you really don't need to buffer anything that has already been played and you only need to buffer a few hundred kilobytes [kilobits] of the forthcoming signal to be able to achieve effective streaming without using a huge chunk of client resources.
  • Features: streaming also means that features such as random playback, searches, sorts, etc... can be done in a fashion highly optimized to audio playback as opposed to trying to lay the same features on top of a mounted filesystem.

It will be very interesting to learn more details about how the entire system is implemented -- and to see what fun toys are released to sit on top of it! Not just for the streaming stuff, but for the whole works!
4:32:56 PM  pontificate