A Lossless Music Locker and a Q&A with OraStream

Do you remember OraStream? In brief, I got to demo a "proof-of-concept" online service that provided 24/96 streaming rates (>2000 kbps according to the OraStream player). You can read more about that here. Since then Orastream has been busy working toward the launch of their forthcoming lossless music locker service. What's that? Frankie Tan, CEO of mp4sls the developer of OraStream, gave us hint in his comments to my last post, "We'll launch a web-service next for content owners to get their music into Orastream and stream-able on mobile devices and web browsers." For the past few weeks, I've been uploading, storing and streaming back my CD-quality music through OraStream's beta site.

In essence this browser-based platform loads a Java app each time you log on to the OraStream beta site. This process could be a bit maddeningly slow but I understand from Frankie Tan that response times will be improved in the production version. In terms of use, Upload times varied but were fairly sluggish at up to about 10 minutes per track (my upload speed hovers around 4-5 Mbps) but streaming back my uploaded music as well as music from other playlists was seamless. According to the OraStream app, my streaming bit rate hovered around > 700 kbps or more than twice the rate of streaming services like Spotify and MOG (which is at best 320 kpbs).

In terms of furthering their proof of concept, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel and I can also see how a lossless music locker and associated streaming service can have some real appeal. If we look at the current crop of Cloud services from Amazon, iTunes, Google, and others, we see a hodgepodge of mandatory lossy compression during the upload process and playback quality that's worse than 320 kbps. Why pay for that? But who is this lossless music locker service for? And how can people "Share" the music they upload without the secret police arriving via helicopter, smashing down doors, and taking our pet poodle?

I sent Frankie Tan a few questions and he's been kind enough to allow me to share his response in full.

Q&A With Frankie Tan, CEO of mp4sls developers of OraStream

When do you anticipate the public launch of the service?
We started this week user-acceptance tests of the commercial lossless music locker. This version will stream 16/44 audio files in full-lossless (<1300 kbps) quality. It has a different "look and feel" interface and offers better user-performance.

Testing will take till the end of June so is expected to be publicly available (replacing the current version) sometime July 2012. When that happens, all current users would be asked to update their passwords and their content will be automatically migrated to the new platform.

It will be free to use for 3 months until October 2012. After that, the pricing model for the locker service could look like this:

a) Free tier - <2GB storage and <320 kbps streams free of charge
b) Lite tier - <5GB storage and <500 kbps streams at $36 per year
c) Standard tier - <50GB storage and <1000 kbps streams at $120 per year
d) Premium tier - Unlimited storage and full lossless streams at $240 per year.
The "Share" feature strikes me as potentially causing some copyright issues. Do you see this as a problem?
The lossless audio locker is primarily targeted at artists and music producers. Under the Terms of Use, OraStream acts as a technical conduit and the user is responsible to use the locker solely for personal non-commercial use. OraStream does not claim any ownership rights in the Users' content and User's agree that their content remains their sole responsibility.

If a User breaches the terms of use, OraStream reserves the right to terminate his or her account and content associated will be removed from the locker.

I believe this is the standard legal position adopted by parties operating a music locker service. The recent EMI-mp3tunes judgment seems to clear the position that a user's legal copy of music in a cloud locker constitutes a user's personal rights of fair use.

What processing is done to the uploaded files?
The users' audio files are uploaded to an encoding server that encodes only wav and flac files (more lossless formats will be supported at a later time) into MPEG4-SLS format. The encoded tracks are then stored in a origin content server (in a content delivery network edge node); returned to the users' track library.

(Although the encoder is able to trans-code any type of audio format to MPEG4-SLS for adaptive streaming, we decided against encoding any lossy audio files; lest the service streams lossy audio as lossless audio and draws in mp3 content from doubtful sources)

The upload and encoding system can encode 24/96/192 audio tracks; however, presently, the Java-browser applet player cannot play back audio tracks higher than 16/44 format.

We are working on a high-res browser player platform and expect that by October 2012 or so, users will be able to play 24/96/192 on their PC browsers (when this high-res player platform replaces the current Java-player).

We are expecting to launch an updated OraStream mobile app that enables user to sign up and log-in to the lossless music locker. Once a user is logged in, s/he can play their personal locker's play lists on the mobile app.

I am not sure if you have seen the OraStream digital LP - essentially a music album in an app. Please find the product white paper for information. [more on this soon. Ed.]

This new version will be updated next week on the App Store - an Android version will likely be available by August 2012.

COMMENTS
kavon yarrum's picture

Certainly interesting. 

Ultimately I believe this will really have appeal in the pro audio/music industry world.

I don't see this getting much traction among audiophiles, but I could be wrong.

There seems to be quite a few open ended questions and potential pitfalls. 

Another factor not often discussed is ISP bottlenecking. A reality, and a major factor.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

…this service is geared toward artists and music producers, not audiophiles. I think audiophiles should focus on the underlying technology rather than this application. See my post on the OraStream DLP for one example that’s more audiophile oriented.

Another factor not often discussed is ISP bottlenecking. A reality, and a major factor.

One interesting aspect of the MPEG-4 SLS technology is its ability to adapt to network conditions (see the next post on DLP).

kavon yarrum's picture

Michael, thank you for reporting on all this stuff. Very cutting edge. Audiostream has really moved ahead of the pack at this point. And what is cool is it is not all about hardware and software.

deckeda's picture

If so, seems like they could be offering lossless 16/44 for the standard tier for a ~700/1000kbps rate. On the other hand, I don't see them claiming a minimum bit rate ... 

Also curious, this: 

The lossless audio locker is primarily targeted at artists and music producers.

Is that primarily because of price, some other restriction/pain level or because Mr. Tan doesn't "think" consumers would want it at any cost?

The larger question there is, what are artists and producers doing now to collaborate? CDs? Dropbox? I'm not clear on what this solves for them.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

Perhaps Mr. Tan can address the specifics.

The larger question there is, what are artists and producers doing now to collaborate? CDs? Dropbox? I'm not clear on what this solves for them.

My understanding, although Mr. Tan is certainly better able to address this question as well, is artists and producers can create a ‘channel’ and push new content/music to it and subscribers can then immediately stream this new music in CD-quality to their desktop or mobile device via the OraStream app. Like a private, on demand radio station.

siewteck's picture

@ minimum bit-rate; on the web-service, the minimum bit-rate will be 64 kbps; on the mobile app, the minimum rate is set by the user either at 64 kbps, 128 kbps or 192 kbps - go to App Settings on to find OraStream app settings.

Perhaps it a generalisation but mainstream consumers don't seem to care much about lossless audio quality relative to artists and music producers, who spend lots of time and expense producing master recordings (only to see them delivered and consumed at 256 kbps mp3).

We think a lossless music locker for artists and musicians would work for music production collaboration - privately share via streaming and not downloading large wav files. Artists and music producers could also "publicly share" promotion tracks on the public (Discover) page for fans to discover their music streaming in lossless quality.

Personally, I use it to store, access and play my personal CDs in lossless audio quality (connecting my iPhone to aux in my car).

siewteck's picture

@kavon...ISP bottlenecking.

Yes, ISP bottlenecking is common - wifi in hotels often is no higher than 400 kbps.

MPEG4-SLS is a scalable lossless audio codec - the audio file is encoded at scalable audio bitrate increments (layers) of 0.4 kbps. The OraStream server monitors the bandwidth at the client-player requesting the audio file; "truncates" (much like peeling an onion away in layers) the requested audio file to the requisite bitrate size to suit the available bandwidth at the client-player. All of this adaptive streaming delivery is carried out in real-time at all requesting clients simultaneously.

This is a boon, particularly, for mobile streaming delivery since network conditions (fluctuations) are inherently unpredictable. There is a smoothing algorithm that smooths out audio delivery so that playback won't change from 80 kbps at one audio frame to 800 kbps at the next frame.

Bit-rate streaming adaptive starts at 64 kbps to lossless bitrates (after compression, typically around 1000-1200 kbps). So in ISP bottlenecking situations, audio adapts to the lower streaming bitrates available at the client player, maintaining quality of service levels.

On the client-side (iOS app), there in the app settings page, the user can select the streaming bit-rates for a cache file (64 kbps, 128 kbps and 192 kbps for offline) and for live streaming (256 kbps, 512 kbps and lossless for online).

When connected on cellular, users can drop live streaming to 256 kbps or 512 kbps to avoid busting the user's data plan; but when connected to the home or office wifi; users can return live streaming back to lossless for better quality of listening experience.

Besides using the cache file for offline playback, this "in-app" cache is used to maintain quality of service in mobile streaming. Anytime network connections drop below 64/128/192 kbps - depending what is selected for cache setting, the player switches play to the cache file. When network connections recover, the player switches back to the live stream. All of this happens seamlessless, transparent to the user.   

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