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Netcasting is once again making headlines in business publications. Thanks in part to streaming-enabled 3GPP devices, some analysts see netcasting as supplanting broadcasting because netcasting offers a virtually limitless number of programming formats, and is now untethered.

Until now, most of the public has associated netcasts with low quality, due in part to inferior codecs like Windows Media Audio. There is a dramatic difference between the audio quality of a typical FM broadcast and a 32 kbps stereo WMA stream. The FM sounds punchy, while the WMA stream sounds like it’s underwater and phasey. Indeed, the only reason why many netcasters have compromised on WMA is that Microsoft has used its monopolistic power to package a WMA player in every copy of Windows ®.

There is a better way, and it’s based on worldwide open standards. MPEG-4 HE-AAC v2 (also known by its trade name of aacPlus ® v2) delivers higher audio quality at lower bandwidths than any other audio codec technology currently available. This saves operating costs while improving audio quality and stream reliability. aacPlus v2 provides extremely stable audio quality over a wide bit rate range, making it the first choice for all application fields in mobile music, digital broadcasting, and the Internet, including podcasting. In rigorous double-blind listening tests conducted by 3GPP (3rd Generation Partnership Project), aacPlus v2 proved its superiority to its competitors even at bitrates as low as 18 kbps. Hence, 3GPP mobile streaming has standardized on the aacPlus codec. Surprisingly, some mobile carriers are not standards-based, instead employing closed systems using Microsoft streaming solutions with very poor audio and video quality.

aacPlus v1 (a version of aacPlus without Parametric Stereo) has been evaluated in multiple 3rd party tests by MPEG, the European Broadcasting Union, and Digital Radio Mondiale. aacPlus v1 outperformed all other codecs in the competition. The full "EBU subjective listening test on low bit rate audio codecs" study can be downloaded at: http://www.ebu.ch/CMSimages/en/tec_doc_t3296_tcm6-10497.pdf

Orban’s Opticodec-PC family of streaming and file encoders use standards-based, genuine Coding Technologies’ AAC/aacPlus v2 codecs. The Opticodec-PC family is versatile, allowing you to stream or download to widely available free players like Winamp (5.05 and higher) and RealPlayer (version 10 or higher). Opticodec-PC 1010 PE (Professional Edition) supports 3GPP streaming to mobile devices. All versions of Opticodec-PC support both HTTP and RTP-based servers, including the free Apple Darwin server, Real/Helix, SHOUTcast ® / Icecast2, and Ultravox ® 3. All versions of the 1010 streaming encoder feature reliable auto-reconnect in case of network interruption and feature robust, hassle-free implementation of metadata (like artist and title information). The Opticodec-PC family is professional, industrial-strength software suitable for anything from an individual’s desktop netcast to a major organization’s multiple streaming to thousands of client players.

The codec is half of the equation. The other half is audio processing before the codec. Broadcasters have been accustomed to processing audio for AM and FM transmission with transmission audio processors like Orban’s Optimod series. Optimod-PC is an Orban-quality audio processor on a PCI sound card. It achieves several important goals in a netcast. It performs dynamic range compression to adapt the audio to typical listening environments like autos, homes, and public places, and it ensures a consistent presentation. In radio, program material from different producers is constantly juxtaposed. Yet most successful broadcasters agree that achieving a "major market" sonic image requires an overall consistency of sound texture and spectral balance from source to source. Optimod-PC brings this consistency to your netcast.

Audiences are moving to the Internet for alternative programming. They deserve better audio quality than MP3 or WMA can deliver at affordable bit rates. Used together, Opticodec-PC and Optimod-PC bring FM broadcast quality to your netcast. Unlike video streaming, audio streaming is now reliably capable of broadcast quality, allowing a positive user experience. This gives your audience a compelling reason to listen and, more importantly, to return again and again.

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