May 04, 2004

HOWTO: How and Why You Would Want To Get Ogg Vorbis on iTunes

OGG? OGG? WTF is OGG? I'll get to that in a moment, and then after I've gotten to that I'll get to two methods for getting Ogg Vorbis files to play in iTunes. One method is insanely easy but will take a while, the second method is much quicker and somewhat harder. Now, I get to the getting to that.

Ogg Vorbis is a free competitor to MP3. "But wait," you say on cue, "MP3s are, err, free-ish. I don't have to pay anything to legally encode my legally purchased CDs on a computer that I certainly didn't win in a bar bet in Tijuana." That's right, you don't have to pay anything, but someone does.

A company called Faunhofer owns several patents that are used with MP3s, and so every time you download an MP3 playing program the maker has to spend money. If you still hate Apple after all they've done for you you could download iTunes several billion times and drive them into a much-predicted bankruptcy. (Probably not)

If you or one of your geeky friends wanted to make your own MP3 player you'd have to pay Fraunhofer, even if you gave it away for free. Sure that seems unlikely - considering the free mp3 players available for download - but my girlfriend seems to insist on cooking from scratch when there's perfectly good meals available in my supermarket's frozen foods and cereal aisles. My point is that people make all sorts of crazy things from scratch, except she doesn't have to pay royalties on her excellent pasta salad.

(Aside: MP3 is short for MPEG Audio Layer 3, and MPEG is an acronym for Motion Picture Experts Group. Does that mean that MP3 expands to "Motion Picture 3," even though it's an audio format? What's the matter, did I just blow your mind?)

Am I against giving Fraunhofer their due? Not really, but I'm not champing at the bit to give them money for something the Vorbis people are able to do for free. Should you get rid of all your MP3s and re-encode all your albums as Ogg Vorbis? If you've got that much time on your hands, I guess, but I'm not doing it.

What should you do with Ogg Vorbis? If you're part of the 83% of musicians that provides music online consider putting up Ogg files. When you rip your new music, rip it as Ogg Vorbis. Or you can just listen to LiveJournal Phone Posts and make fun of people for all their drama.

More importantly, why should you use Ogg Vorbis? Well it sounds better. Also, copyright protections are eroding our rights and by using an open format you know that it won't track users. If you don't think that file formats are that important, Larry Lessig puts forward an excellent case in Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace for how computer code is creating laws that no citizen can protest.

So now that the advocacy for Ogg Vorbis is out of the way, continue reading for how to get it going in iTunes.

I promised an easy way and here it is: Contact Apple and tell them that you want Ogg Vorbis support in their products. I told you it was easy, and I also said it would take a while. A long while considering iTunes 4.5 just came out, I wouldn't expect to see iTunes 5 for 12 to 18 months. But this part is key: in their most recent iTunes conference call, Apple said that they don't support Ogg Vorbis because no one is asking for it. Let Apple know that you don't want to rent music, you want to own it. Apple admits that you* are the reason that it doesn't support Ogg Vorbis.

If you don't want to wait for Apple to officially support it (and I don't blame you if you don't), you can still get it working by going to the QuickTime Components project and downloading the Ogg Vorbis plugin for Windows or Mac OS X. Exctract the file and either put it in C:\Windows\System32\QuickTime (Windows) or /Library/Quicktime (OS X) and restart. iTunes will start playing Ogg files! Awesome. That wasn't that much harder than writing Apple, and it's got a much faster payoff. Of course, following both methods yields best results.

*: Yes you. You personally. They named you but Gizmodo wanted to spare you the wrath of Apple zealots and didn't print your name. You should thank them. [back]

Posted by george at May 4, 2004 10:35 AM
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I first ripped my CDs to MP3s back in about 1998. It took about a month to convert around 600 CDs. I ripped everything to MP3s at 192kbps CBR (I didn't have anything that would do VBR back then). I had a lot of rips that were incomplete or broken.

Because of additions to our music collection since then, and to fix the brokenness, I've been in the process of re-ripping my music again. This time I decided to rip everything to FLACs. FLACs are also a free codec, but they're lossless. Meaning, of coures, that they provide perfect fidelity. The down side is that they tend to run at just under 1000kbps. So they're fairly big.

Currently I have around 300 of my CDs ripped, and that's taking up around 93GB of storage.

When I'm at home, I play the FLACs to the stereo using one of SlimDevices SqueezeBox players over Ethernet. This bad boy just worked, throwing FLACs at the stereo within 15 minutes of my unpacking the box.

I also have a script that runs through the FLACs and "renders" them down into Oggs (it could do MP3s or whatnot, of course). I finally settled on 64kbps VBR Oggs for this rendering. This sounds fine for use with headphones or in the bathroom or in the car, on my laptop. The benefit here is that I can fit my entire CD collection on my laptop, but also have them available to play through the stereo.

I carry my laptop with me everywhere, so this really is the best of both worlds. I originally ripped as 192kbps MP3s because I wanted to be able to pack away the CDs and never handle them. If I ripped to lower quality, I was concerned that I wouldn't be happy with the fidelity on the stereo.

Sean

Posted by: Sean Reifschneider at May 4, 2004 02:05 PM

Sean - FLAC definately seems like the way to go for archiving music. Since it's an open format you know your music won't wind up as part of the Dead Media Project. I think Apple was suffering from a strong case of NIH syndrome when they came up with Apple Lossless, but to their credit they probably wanted to include DRM so that they could stop you from listening to your music archives whenever thye wanted.

It's also nice that you can convert from FLAC to whatever the format du jour is (MP3, AAC OGG, etc.) without losing any quality. By contrast, burning an audio CD from AAC then ripping it into MP3 is a good way to make your music sound like shit.

Posted by: George at May 4, 2004 02:42 PM

I finally got sick of the QT Component for ogg playback and just converted my stuff back to mp3. The resulting files sounded just as good (on my best pair of headphones, when I was listening as closely as I could for any signs of artifacting, and even went so far as to do some double-blind testing and so on) and were on average slightly smaller.

What this told me is that ogg's psychoacoustic model makes a great preprocessor for mp3. :)

Anyway, here's why I got sick of ogg:

- The QT Component is REALLY slow on my Mac (G4/450). As in, chews up like 90% of the CPU, and is very scheduler-dependent. Moving windows makes the music skip.

- No iPod support likely for my 3G iPod (if they do support ogg on the iPod it'd probably only show up for 4G devices when/if those come out)

- It refused to stream over a network

- No track number information, making it useless for listening to entire albums (and it had on-the-whole lacking metadata support anyway)

Conceivably, some of those issues may have been fixed in the last month, but I doubt it.

Also, I don't buy the argument that ogg is patent-free. Vorbis' claim is that ogg is patent-free "because they never read any audio patents." That does NOT make it patent-free, and certainly doesn't make something 'obvious' or trivial in the eyes of the patent office. Considering that there are patents which broadly cover applying a DCT transform to audio and then applying Huffman compression, and other broad patents over psychoacoustic models and so on, I bet that the only reason Vorbis hasn't been sued for patent infringement is that it just isn't worth the patent holders' time (since there's no major commercial companies relying on ogg just yet).

If Apple were to incorporate ogg, they would suddenly become liable for any patent issues which were to come up later.

Posted by: fluffy at May 5, 2004 03:04 PM


I have asked Apple to include ogg vorbis in iTunes about three times in the last year, from different IP addresses. They are well aware that people want it. Their choice to not support it is probably because of their heavy involvement with the mpeg consoritum and their dependence on aac format for their commercial music store. There is no financial advantage for Apple to include vorbis support and that's where their decision must come from. They are only in it for the money.


My solution is to disuade people from using iTunes. There are two free players which have full ogg vorbis support on OS X: VLC and Whamb. And Winamp on Windows.


As for no commercial interest, does Real Networks qualify? Granted this article is two years old but this one is from January 2004.

Posted by: Lee Azzarello at May 8, 2004 08:38 PM

Sorry, comments are closed.