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Bringing audio to the web, and the web to audio

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Olivier Thereaux | 11:45 UK time, Thursday, 22 December 2011

Some of the exciting research work we do on Audio requires 50 microphones or a State of the art listening room. Some just need a web browser and our will to cooperate with the best in the industry.

For almost two years now, the BBC has been active in the audio effort of the W3C, the forum where new web standards are being discussed and developed. Since we joined the effort, much work was done, including the building of early implementations by the likes of Mozilla and Google, but there hadn't been a lot of official announcements on progress. Things changed dramatically in the past two weeks, however: just days after the W3C director and management gave the BBC a significant nod to our contribution and expertise by appointing a BBC representative (yours truly) as co-chair of its Audio Working Group, the working group resolved to publish not one, but two draft specifications which promise to make audio a first-class citizen on the web.

As explained in the W3C blog post on the publication of the Audio Processing API specifications, the emerging technologies will allow developers to build rich experiences directly in the browser, as part of the increasingly exciting open web stack:

  • Loop sounds without gaps
  • Control parameters such as Bass and Treble, enhancing the clarity of audio
  • Panning sounds left to right
  • Positioning sounds in 3D space for games
  • Easily process the raw data in an audio stream for scientific research
  • Adding filters and effects to audio for music creation
  • Visualize audio signals for music and streaming applications

Such features will enable great applications from gaming to collaboration on music and video/audio communication between friends, all in the browser, using technologies open to all. Work is not over for the group - indeed, one could argue that publishing two draft specifications is a sign that the serious work can begin, and there are months of collaboration ahead of us on refining the specifications, building test suites to ensure interoperability of implementations - not to mention building consensus towards merging the two efforts into, ideally, a single interoperable technology which would work for all.

But the most exciting thing, perhaps, is knowing that this effort will not only bring great audio experiences on the web, it will also bring the web and the many possibilities of open, decentralised collaboration to the audio world, and will surely give birth to exciting, entirely new, and as yet unheard of applications.

To learn more about this work, read the draft specifications or visit the W3C blog for more information, demos and examples.

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