May 16, 2017

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.

Credit: MP3 Red Bar From FCP7

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.      

Your Comment

17 Comments

'and H.265 and an H.265' - I think you made a mistake...

May 16, 2017 at 12:35PM

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Benjamin Brockbank
Sonic Artist
86

Was just gonna point that out haha

May 16, 2017 at 1:36PM

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Rean Combrinck
Film Maker
187

Me too...!!

May 16, 2017 at 2:15PM

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Sameir Ali
Director of Photography
690

For really long term usability, saving in uncompressed is the best. It takes up a lot of room of course but anyone in the future wouldn't have to worry about what will be an old codec that nobody uses anymore.

May 16, 2017 at 1:03PM

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"It takes up a lot of room" was certainly true in years past, but with today's storage capacities, saving uncompressed audio files should not take up much room at all for anyone.

May 17, 2017 at 3:12AM

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Logan Fish
Video Journalist
247

Unfortunately, lossless encoding won't change the fact that all popular recordings since the late '90s have been destroyed with DYNAMIC compression, not data compression.

May 23, 2017 at 9:06PM

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David Gurney
DP
1478

Honestly, DCP is too expensive for most things we backup. You/we/humanity will be converting video files to newer digital formats forever, piece by piece, there is no real long term solution besides scratching out the data in analog.

May 16, 2017 at 1:38PM

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Rean Combrinck
Film Maker
187

Drink up me hearties yo ho.

May 16, 2017 at 1:56PM

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MP3 isn't going anywhere. Why do people keep writing articles like it is?
It's not like VHS because it's not a physical format that requires a physical player that can break down over time. That said I still have a VHS payer.

MP3 was so widespread there will probably always be software to open them. Just like Microsoft Word Files and PDFs.
As for quality, most people can't tell the difference. That's one of the big reasons it became so popular. I even know a couple of audio pros who have done some recording in MP3 in a pinch, because again, most people can't tell the difference and not all video productions are shown in Dolby Atmos theaters to a bunch of audiophiles. Many videos are just simple web videos that will be heard on crappy PC speakers or earbuds by your average person.

The death of the MP3 is greatly exaggerated.

May 16, 2017 at 4:01PM

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Mike Tesh
Pro Video / Indie Filmmaker
498

Exactly. I can still play audio and video files in the very earliest formats without issue. Maintaining outdated digital formats is very easy.

May 16, 2017 at 7:41PM, Edited May 16, 7:41PM

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Stu Mannion
writer/dir/dp
664

Ryan O. Its more like saying, in a pinch a DoP might use a Canon 5D...... But no not saying, they will shoot Star Wars on it.

May 18, 2017 at 5:17AM

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Isaac Elliott
Director/Cinematographer
246

I hope you're joking about your "pro" friends recording to mp3...cuz as a DoP, that's like you recording with h.264 files or shooting .jpg but expecting the data/information to do good post-color correction.

May 16, 2017 at 7:55PM

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Ryan O
9

Yep. Since when do expiring patents mean FEWER people will use what they encumbered?

May 23, 2017 at 9:07PM

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David Gurney
DP
1478

> 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.

That ist true. The patents are expired. So there is no need to license those patents from the Fraunhofer Institut. Now I can implement MP3 however I like without paying fees to the Fraunhofer Institut.

If I choose to use the implementation of the Fraunhofer Institut I will of course still have to pay them for the software. If I choose a different implementation like LAME, I don't have to pay anything.

I fail to understand how "not having to pay for MP3" will kill MP3.

May 17, 2017 at 9:30AM

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Henrik Prinz
Learner
104

Personally I think MP3 format is here to stay for a long while. I bet in 10 years for now we will still be reading articles about how MP3 is about to die.

MP3 is like the universal language for audio.

May 17, 2017 at 9:36AM, Edited May 17, 9:36AM

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Randal
13

Good riddance ... MP3 is a garbage format, totally robbing music of its magic. Its the ultimate sellout format for people who value convenience over quality. FLAC or Vinyl is the only way to go if you actually care about getting as close to the Master as possible.

May 17, 2017 at 1:19PM, Edited May 17, 1:19PM

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Complete garbage of article.

"Big formats sometimes disappear faster than we think" -- not really, usually they hang around for ages, you just mentioned yourself VHS only died last year and it's been around since seventies.

But how do you even define a "death" of a digital format? The idea of having to need plugin is ridiculous, considering lame.exe which includes both encoder and decoder is les than 500kb -- what's the problem keeping that code in any future player? No to mention everyone's collection is in MP3 and if anything, people are switching to streaming or the audiophile minority to lossless formats, not to the AAC.

To sum it up, nothing happened, MP3 patent just expired, so the implementation is even easier and cheaper than ever.

May 18, 2017 at 4:48PM

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zetty
Filmmaker
641

Yeh what a terrible title and slanted article just because a patent has expired.

May 19, 2017 at 12:57PM

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jeff
grip Electric
88