PMPs – Why do People Ignore Compression?

One thing I notice is that many portable devices, companies sell higher capacity versions for exorbitant premiums, when flash memory really isn’t that expensive.  Seems to be less of an issue for players which do include an (mini/micro)SDHC expansion slot, as you can effectively increase capacity with a cheap add-on card.

But despite this, it seems that many people really do pay these excessive premiums for this increased storage.  I sometimes do wonder how people fill up so much space, eg getting a 32GB player over a 16GB one.  Surely these people have lots of videos and music, probably more than they need, and obviously, a higher capacity player allows them to carry more on the same device.

Whilst this is fine for the majority who aren’t so technically inclined, I do wonder about the people who are more technically inclined, and them overlooking the other side of the equation.  For example:

Amount of music that can be stored = Storage capacity ÷ per song size

Now we want to be able to store more music (again, even if it’s a lot more than we need), but the general approach of simply upping storage capacity is only one part of the equation – most people, even more technically inclined people, seem to ignore the fact that you can also store more stuff by reducing the file sizes of media!

Admittedly, compressing stuff can take effort.  In fact, I’ve had a number of motivations that most probably never had, including the old days of me trying to fit MP3s on floppies, squish as much as I could out of my 4GB harddrive, squeeze music on a 256MB MP3 player, and packing videos onto my 1GB PSP memory stick.  However, with a bit of reading, it’s mostly sticking your music/videos into a batch converter and then copying everything across.  It’s slightly less convenient when you add stuff (you probably need to pass these through a converter too), though, personally, I’m used to doing this, so I don’t mind.

But does compression really yield much benefit?  From what I’ve seen, I’d say so.  It seems most people just dump their 128/192/256/320kbps MP3s (usually more 320kbps as this is a popular size in P2P) on the device and that’s all they care about.  From the fact that most people cannot tell defects in 128kbps MP3s (let’s just say it’s LAME encoded), and my own listening tests, I’d say that most people cannot hear defects in 56-64kbps HE-AAC (encoded with NeroAAC).  Support for this format is limited though (difficulty of implementing SBR on embedded devices), though I believe Rockbox supports it, along with the latest iDevices (pre-late-2009 do not support HE-AAC).  Next in line would be 80-96kbps OGG Vorbis, if your player supports it.  In fact, I cannot personally hear defects in 128kbps Vorbis, so even audiophiles could use a big space saving by using higher bitrate Vorbis.  But support for Vorbis is surprisingly low, considering that this is a royalty free codec.

For an audio format with a fair bit of support, would be LC-AAC (aka “AAC”) which achieves similar quality to 128kbps MP3 at around 96-112kbps (using NeroAAC or iTunes).  Failing that, using LAME to encode MP3s with a variable bitrate can yield decent quality with average bitrates around 112kbps.

Now if we assume that the average song is a 320kbps MP3 and the listener really can’t hear defects in 128kbps MP3s, and the underlying player supports HE-AAC, we could get a massive 320-56 = 264kbps saving (82.5% smaller!) by being a bit smarter in storing our music.  This equates to being able to store over 5 times more music in the same amount of space.  But of course, this is an optimal situation, and may not always work.  Even if we’re more conservative, and say that the average MP3 is 192kbps, and the underlying player only supports LC-AAC, we can still get a 50% reduction in size by converting the 192kbps MP3 to 96kbps LC-AAC, which equates to a doubling in storage space.

Videos are perhaps more difficult to get right as the parameters involved in video encoding is significantly more complex than audio encoding (also note that videos often include audio).  But from what I’ve seen, significant space savings can be gained by encoding videos more intelligently, but it’s hard to provide rough figures as most people do convert videos for their portable devices, but use a wide variety of applications and settings.  For reference, I see a lot of >100MB PSP encoded anime episodes, however, I can personally get them to around 30-40MB using a x264 crf of 25 and ~8MB audio stream (allowing me to easily store a 12 episode anime series on a 1GB stick, with plenty of space to spare).

So for those who don’t compress their media, maybe give it a bit of a shot and see what space savings you can get.  You may be surprised at how much 16GB can really store.

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3 Comments to "PMPs – Why do People Ignore Compression?"

  1. Assassinator's Gravatar Assassinator
    November 16, 2010 - 9:16 am | Permalink

    >> and them overlooking the other side of the equation.

    Well, it depends. Since I’m a poor uni student, yeah I compress stuff all the time. Actually, I’d probably compress stuff anyway just for efficiency’s sake.

    But imagine if you earned $50/hr (after tax, so it’s easier). Now that $100 premium you’re paying is just 2hrs of work. The total time you’re going to spend compressing stuff, over the lifetime of your portable device, far far outweighs 2hrs (even if you mostly background compress, like me).

    >> I can personally get them to around 30-40MB using a x264 crf of 25 and ~8MB audio stream

    Do you actually hold videos (on your portable device) for a long time, I generally just watch and delete, so yeah, crf 19 no probs. Dark scenes still look crappy though :(

  2. Sick_Demented99's Gravatar Sick_Demented99
    January 21, 2011 - 6:39 pm | Permalink

    Hmm… I should probably look into compressing my media. Especially since I plan to download anime rather than streaming it, in the future… When I get my net back…

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