Joe's Vorbis Info

What is it?

Vorbis is a lossy audio encoding scheme, similar to MP3 (see Lossless vs. Lossy below for more info). There are several very significant differences, though. First, Vorbis sounds better (completely subjective, of course) and compresses smaller than MP3. Next, Vorbis is extensible. The encoding format is such that as the encoding gets better, old decoders (players) will still be able to play the audio. Finally, Vorbis is free. What's that? MP3 is free? Think again (and get the facts)!

Why do I list it?

I've started to encode whole shows onto a single CD for a more enjoyable listening experience. The sound quality is good enough for my purposes (mainly for listening at work), and it's nice to carry around a single CD as opposed to lugging around 4 of them. I can stick it in my CD-Rom drive and listen for up to 6 hours without bothering with it. Not too shabby!

Since I've done this for myself, I figure other people might like it, too. So, if I have something already converted to Vorbis, it is nothing but a thing to make a copy for someone else. Quite honestly, it's easier to make a copy of this than to make a copy of a regular audio CD, both because it's data and not audio, and it's 1 CD instead of 3 or 4 or even 6.

Can I play it in my car?

No, unfortunately not. Unless of course you've got a nifty Linux box tucked into the glove box!

You can only play these on your computer for the moment. Most of the popular players now support Vorbis, either natively or thru a plug-in. My favorite player for Windows is QCD 3. I think it's capabilities are much better than WinAmp, and it's free, too. It just doesn't have as many spiffy skinz. But it sounds better, and for me, sound wins over looks any day (though I also think it looks fine).

Lossless vs. Lossy

There are fundamentally two ways of encoding audio: lossy & lossless. Lossy loses something in the encoding, while lossless does not. Said a different way, if you encode a file and then decode it, with a lossless encoding scheme the decoded data will be bit-for-bit exactly the same as the original source, while a lossy scheme will not. Consequently, the lossless scheme will sound exactly like the source, while the lossy one will not be as good. How bad it will be exactly depends on the skill of the programmers (and the bit-rate -- see below).

Why use a lossy scheme at all, you ask? It compresses to a fraction of the original, and sound files are BIG. To give you a feel for the difference, I happen to have a wave file on my hard drive (it's 2 minutes and 8 seconds long), which I'll encode a couple of different ways:

The lossless compression is approximately half the size of the original WAV, while the OGG file (Vorbis' file extension is OGG) is about 1/4 the size. Vorbis uses what's called a variable bit-rate (VBR) encoding scheme, meaning that it only uses as much data as needed to encode something to a targetted bit-rate. The higher the bit-rate, the better the sound quality, but quite often you don't need all those extra bits, so it doesn't bother storing them, making the file smaller without sacrificing audio quality.

Approximate capacity of a standard 74 minute CD:

I'm sold! Can I get the following shows, please?

Well, if I've already converted it, I'd be glad to burn you a copy. If I haven't, please don't ask for it. For all its good qualities, encoding in Vorbis is still a bit slow; it takes about 30 seconds longer than the actual song length to encode it at the highest bit-rate target, on my machine. It also takes a lot of hard drive space, which I don't always have hanging around empty. So, unfortunately, I can't just whip up a new OGG-ed show. Sorry!

I do have a list of shows encoded in Vorbis (it's small, but will grow over time) - Ogg/Vorbis List.

Where can I get more info?

Here are some links for you:


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Copyright © Joseph L. Casadonte Jr. 2001. All rights reserved.
Joe's Vorbis Info / 25 March 2001 / headlight@northbound-train.com

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