ok ok, i feel that it is once again time to try to expand my pathetic knowledge of computers. mp3 has become a part of general speak, often used to refer to things that arent actually .mp3 files, as far as i know. now my question is, what exactly does .mp3 mean, what sets it apart from any other file type, and is there anything that would be better?
It stands for MPEG-2 Layer 3.
That brings up the question of what MPEG stands for. It stands for Moving Pictures Expert Group. It is the name of a family of standards used to encode and compress audio and visual information.
In brief, MP3 is a kind of lossy compression especially suitable for music (or audio) that allows files to be made very small with a minimum of loss noticable to the ear. If it’s done right, of course.
There are other schemes and some may be better, but right now, MP3 is the nearest thing to universal we have. Even Sony’s joining the party and adding MP3 decoding to their previously proprietary-only playback devices. Enjoy.
That would be ATRAC3.
By way of example, the Discman I bought so I can take my .mp3 CDs on the road came with software that rips CDs and will write music files to an ATRAC3 format CD.
I don’t know how the compression compares with .mp3, because the idea of having CDs that will only play on Sony gear is totally unappealling to me, so I binned the installation CD right away. My .mp3 CDs will play on any computer, most DVD players, and nearly all new CD players worth a lick.
And “proprietary” means “exclusively owned or controlled” if that’s what you were asking.
As to the question “is there anything out there that is better?” some other file formats are better in various ways. For example, there is Ogg Vorbis (normally .ogg) files, which is both competely open-sourced and free of any licensing issues, supports up to 255 channels of audio (.mp3 files only support 2-channel sound), and for a given size, Ogg Vorbis files are generally rated as sounding better than any other format, though the .acc files (used in Apple’s iTunes) are close behind in quality.
The main downside of Ogg Vorbis is that few portable players support the format; nearly everything will play .mp3’s. The only major portable music player that doesn’t support .mp3’s are the Sony HD ones, though they will be adding support soon, as Musicat mentioned. Right now, if you buy the Sony HD music player, you are stuck with the crappy ATRAC3 format, which is generally regarded as the worst sounding of the major file formats, behind even Windows Media Audio(.wma).
Actually it’s “MPEG-1 Layer 3” - that first site in your search results must be mistaken.