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The History of MP3

Fraunhofer Gesellschaft and MP3

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MP3 Player

MP3 Player

The German company Fraunhofer-Gesellshaft developed MP3 technology and now licenses the patent rights to the audio compression technology - United States Patent 5,579,430 for a "digital encoding process". The inventors named on the MP3 patent are Bernhard Grill, Karl-Heinz Brandenburg, Thomas Sporer, Bernd Kurten, and Ernst Eberlein.

In 1987, the prestigious Fraunhofer Institut Integrierte Schaltungen research center (part of Fraunhofer Gesellschaft) began researching high quality, low bit-rate audio coding, a project named EUREKA project EU147, Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB).

Dieter Seitzer and Karlheinz Brandenburg

Two names are mentioned most frequently in connection with the development of MP3. The Fraunhofer Institut was helped with their audio coding by Dieter Seitzer, a professor at the University of Erlangen. Dieter Seitzer had been working on the quality transfer of music over a standard phone line. The Fraunhofer research was led by Karlheinz Brandenburg often called the "father of MP3". Karlheinz Brandenburg was a specialist in mathematics and electronics and had been researching methods of compressing music since 1977. In an interview with Intel, Karlheinz Brandenburg described how MP3 took several years to fully develop and almost failed. Brandenburg stated "In 1991, the project almost died. During modification tests, the encoding simply did not want to work properly. Two days before submission of the first version of the MP3 codec, we found the compiler error."

What is MP3

MP3 stands for MPEG Audio Layer III and it is a standard for audio compression that makes any music file smaller with little or no loss of sound quality. MP3 is part of MPEG, an acronym for Motion Pictures Expert Group, a family of standards for displaying video and audio using lossy compression. Standards set by the Industry Standards Organization or ISO, beginning in 1992 with the MPEG-1 standard. MPEG-1 is a video compression standard with low bandwidth. The high bandwidth audio and video compression standard of MPEG-2 followed and was good enough to use with DVD technology. MPEG Layer III or MP3 involves only audio compression.

Timeline - History of MP3

  • 1987 - The Fraunhofer Institut in Germany began research code-named EUREKA project EU147, Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB).
  • January 1988 - Moving Picture Experts Group or MPEG was established as a subcommittee of the International Standards Organization/International Electrotechnical Commission or ISO/IEC.
  • April 1989 - Fraunhofer received a German patent for MP3.
  • 1992 - Fraunhofer's and Dieter Seitzer’s audio coding algorithm was integrated into MPEG-1.
  • 1993 - MPEG-1 standard published.
  • 1994 - MPEG-2 developed and published a year later.
  • November 26, 1996 - United States patent issued for MP3.
  • September 1998 - Fraunhofer started to enforce their patent rights. All developers of MP3 encoders or rippers and decoders/players now have to pay a licensing fee to Fraunhofer.
  • February 1999 - A record company called SubPop is the first to distribute music tracks in the MP3 format.
  • 1999 - Portable MP3 players appear.

What Can MP3 Do

Fraunhofer Gesellschaft has this to say about MP3:"Without Data reduction, digital audio signals typically consist of 16 bit samples recorded at a sampling rate more than twice the actual audio bandwidth (e.g. 44.1 kHz for Compact Discs). So you end up with more than 1.400 Mbit to represent just one second of stereo music in CD quality. By using MPEG audio coding, you may shrink down the original sound data from a CD by a factor of 12, without losing sound quality."

MP3 Players

In the early 1990s, Frauenhofer developed the first, however, unsuccessful MP3 player. In 1997, developer Tomislav Uzelac of Advanced Multimedia Products invented the AMP MP3 Playback Engine, the first successful MP3 player. Two university students, Justin Frankel and Dmitry Boldyrev ported AMP to Windows and created Winamp. In 1998, Winamp became a free MP3 music player boosting the success of MP3. No licensing fees are required to use an MP3 player.
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