RIP MP3: What the Death of a File Format Means for Filmmakers
MP3, the file format that taught most of us about downloading files from the internet, is leaving license.
Fraunhofer, the company responsible for licensing MP3 encoding and decoding functionality to software vendors, is ending licenses as the patents that covered the creation of the MP3 are expiring this year. Of course, this doesn't mean that MP3 will disappear overnight; if anything, it's possible that MP3 will have a brief period of even wider adoption, as the technology can now be enabled in new devices and platforms for free, without paying for licensing. In the long term, however, with the widespread adoption of AAC as it's replacement, this seems like the first step in the end of MP3.
Aside from pure nostalgia, it's an important reminder to filmmakers that formats that once seem ubiquitous don't last forever.
Why should filmmakers care? Aside from pure nostalgia, it's an important reminder that formats that once seem ubiquitous don't last forever. VHS finally went to its grave last year, and now MP3 is racing towards the end of life. While it's a few years away, it's likely that, in the future, you'll end up with a computer system that doesn't have the ability to play MP3 files without a plugin. Big formats sometimes disappear faster than we think, so whatever you make, be sure to store it in as many formats as possible.
For example, right now, ProRes seems safe. However, with many filmmakers switching to PC, which isn't ProRes friendly, who knows what its future holds? DCP is probably your safest long term bet, but most of us don't have DCP players at home. If you care about your movie, making a DCP, a ProRes, and H.265 and an H.265, and a DNxHD is probably a good place to start. If you care about your music, MP3 was never really the best long term storage solution, but it's definitely not now.
MP3 was also the first introduction a lot of us had to noticeable artifacts from compression (MP3s really don't sound as good as CDs), and also to getting your footage in the right format for editing. Anyone who dragged an MP3 into FCP7 only to get a red bar for playback requiring render has come up against the realities of post production, where the formats that make great distribution aren't always easy to work with.
We should all pour one out for the format that most of our music was stored in before the streaming revolution took over. It helped put 10,000 songs in our pocket, back when that was a revolution. What revolution do you think will come next? Let us know in the comments.