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Watermarks disappeared from SonicStage 4.0

While current 192 kbit/s listening test is running smoothly I would like to free myself from some arrears. The first one concerns ATRAC3 codec from previous 128 kbit/s listening test. Preparing test files for the test I found that SonicStage 3.4 (SS) introduces watermarks during decoding of .oma files. So any .wav file or Audio CD made from ATRAC3 files had some additional information about their origins. I didn’t investigate the case in-depth but most probably all metadata from oma container were preserved by means of watermarking in decoded wav file. I’m not surprised if watermarking technique was the same as in illustrious Sony-BMG compact discs with rootkit (brilliant case study on the topic was made by J. Alex Halderman and Edward W. Felten – “Lessons from the Sony CD DRM Episode”). Anyway such investigation is not actual anymore. Yesterday when I started to write this post I decided to check new 4.0 version of SS for the “feature” and found that watermarking machinery was completely removed from application. If we also remember that among recent SS “innovations” were mp3 and then aac functionality, it becomes clear that the move is in the right direction. It’s clear to me as well that final point of that move can’t be iPod with corresponding business model simply because “Number 2” can’t be a serious goal for SONY (otherwise it should be renamed to SONi). For good old Walkman I can imagine only one successful business model that could make it “Number 1” again:

1. Unlimited and convenient music interchange between any audio devices and people. Business has the choice either to close Internet or to find a way to coexist with free flow of information. Internet is not just a powerful channel of distribution; it is a new media of social communication which inevitably transforms habitual priorities and rights’ contours. Extended communication capabilities such as Bluetooth, Wi-fi, Wi-max, GPRS, G3 … are musts.

2. Cheaper than P2P audio content. Indeed p2p audio is not free – it takes time, efforts and sometimes failed because of low quality and search problems. Any online music store with really low prices, wide choice, guaranteed quality and perfect usability will definitely win over “free” p2p solutions. Unlike classical model of music distribution the online one has its own features: final prices are much lower, market size is bigger, production costs and other expenses are lower, payments to authors are higher (as they have opportunity of direct sales over the Internet) and so on… Sooner or later new balance will be found for sure.

3. Outstanding sound quality. High definition audio tract creates demand for high quality audio content (in technical and artistic sense). Demanding listener as a consumer looks more attractive than musical barbarian. Also transparent audio tract opens the road for binaural and holophonic recordings; allows the use of more subtle DSP effects.

Superior battery life and ergonomic design of player could make this business model unbeatable for a long period of time (till emerging of new social phenomenon like Internet).

It’s worth to add that the model cuts down extra profits on super stars – after a short “sweet sales” period any popular record can be easily found in the nearest social community rather then bought elsewhere. Music scene will be more dynamic and varied; independent labels and artists will get additional chance to be heard. In short the situation could be described as globalization and demonopolization of music market.

If you can’t resist, be at the head. Sony like.no.other has all necessary resources to implement this model. And there is nothing to lose already.

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Audio Transparency Initiative