By Richard Menta 5/18/09
The MP3 codec is a relatively old one; a digital format created in the 1980's when a PC used dual-boot floppy bays to load the operating system. By the turn of this decade we had a myriad of more modern and efficient codecs to choose from, including ACC, OGG Vorbis, and ATRAC3 just to name a few. OGG took off with the gaming community, because the open source codec is free, while ACC was propelled by iTunes.
Despite the gains made by these formats and others the MP3 format reigns supreme. Part of this is because the MP3 format was the first ubiquitous codec and many users are heavily invested in it. Another part of it's success comes from the fact that it did not support digital rights management (DRM). The latter comment may be key to why consumer adoption of other codecs has been mixed. You could always rely on the MP3 codec to work, but DRM abuse heaved unto consumers by overzealous record labels left many paying music buyers with a less than pleasurable experience.
Of all the music download services only iTunes has managed to secure significant trust among users. This fact raises the barrier to entry to newcomers. One newcomer is a company, fresh with venture capital, that hopes to successfully introduce a nascent audio/video format called MXP4.
MXP4 raised $2.7 million from Sofinnova Partners and Ventech Capital for its eponymous codec, which extends the capabilities of a simple music file. The MXP4 format handles both audio and video, contains multiple tracks and allows the user to mix music. Such a feature set could fit in quite well with the mashup culture that has evolved this decade.
A more flexible codec certainly offers competitive reason for consumers to adopt it. But those of us burned by the Sony rootkit scandal or by the dozen or so download services that perished (leaving purchased downloads that no longer worked, no refunds) might have a few concerns over what lies hidden underneath the hood of MXP4. Does this codec offer a new take on DRM or data mining that I should be cogniscent of?
Former Vivendi Mobile Entertainment executive Albin Serviant has taken the reigns as CEO. His pedigree suggests that MXP4 inc. will strive to curry the favor of the major record labels and film studios as part of its adoption strategy. Unfortunately, the media conglomerates tend to push for terms on blessed technology that are less than consumer-friendly.
Consumer unfriendly technology has led to the trust issue we presently have in the digital media arena. In today's climate trust issues can derail even the most worthy technology.
For MXP4 to succeed it will need to address many issues. The question is do the company executives realize that consumer trust is one of them? If they don't it could condemn MXP4 to the trash heap with Liquid Audio, Real G2, WMA and, possibly soon, the Zune proprietary codec.