Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Daring Fireball on AAC, MP3 and WMA licensing

DF has the first public comparison of MP3, AAC and WMA licensing fees I've seen. Emphases mine.
Daring Fireball: Some Facts About AAC

... The rights to MP3 in most countries, including the U.S., are held by Thomson Consumer Electronics, and companies must pay them licensing fees for any hardware or software product that plays or encodes MP3 audio. Audio playback in hardware costs $0.75 per unit, for example; encoding costs $1.25 per unit.

... AAC is not “unique” to Apple. It’s not even controlled or invented by Apple, or any other single company. It is an ISO standard that was invented by engineers at Dolby, working with companies like Fraunhofer, Sony, AT&T, and Nokia. Licensing is controlled by Via. For up to 400,000 units per year, AAC playback costs $1.00 per unit; for more than 400,000 units per year, the price drops to $0.74 per unit.

[jf: DF doesn't say what AAC encoding costs ...]

In terms of licensing costs, patents, and openness, AAC is very much comparable to MP3. MP3 does have the advantage of near-ubiquitous support in consumer electronics and software; AAC has the advantage of slightly better audio quality at the same encoding bitrate. Additionally, MP3 requires a royalty fee of 2 percent for “electronic music distribution”, AAC requires no royalty fee for distribution.

... it is true that WMA licensing is significantly cheaper: $0.10 per unit for playback of two or fewer channels of audio, $0.20 per unit for encoding. But WMA is not an industry standard. Unlike AAC, it is controlled by a single company: Microsoft. And in for a penny, in for a pound: once you license WMA audio, you’re also on the hook to Microsoft for licensing fees for Windows Media DRM (if you need support for DRM) and Windows Media Video.
The .DOC (Word) file format made Microsoft, along with extreme (and illegal) ruthlessness (back in the day) and the ability to break Lotus at will. Even in its current, seemingly senile, state I dread the thought of Microsoft owning a music file format. I even get twitchy at them owning HD Photo despite their standardization claims.

No comments: