Whether you’re in the audio industry, a hobbyist filmmaker, or simply interested in knowing more about the various audio formats and codecs, we’ll look here at the best audio format for movies.
Keep in mind that even with all the advancements we’ve had in technology, especially on how we consume video content these days, there’s still a lot behind the scenes that are working to help make movies as realistic as possible. Whether that’s in an IMAX movie theatre or your home movie theatre on the couch.
So what’s the best audio format for Movies?
When you’re combining audiovisuals, you want to be able to use the best formats possible. That means when you’re specifically looking at the audio format, you’ll want to use something that is as uncompressed as possible, which means using the tried and true WAV format.
Waveform Audio File Format or WAV keeps the audio files as pure as possible. This comes from how we turn analog sound into a digital format through PCM or Pulse-code Modulation.
Yet if you’re looking for even higher quality, such as 5.1, you’ll look at Dolby Digital® technology, which is built from their original AC3 codecs. This is where you’ll be able to separate and distribute the sound through the numerous speakers.
If you’re looking to go even more advanced, then you can utilize Dolby’s latest technology Dolby Atmos which also has sound coming from the bottom and top. This helps to create sounds in a truly 3D audio bubble. It is actually still a type of lossless compression here but can be fantastic regardless.
With movies it’s critical to use the highest possible format for the best quality at the onset, regardless of the amount of data storage that will be needed for it. That’s because as it starts to go from the theater to the home theater down to the smartphone for viewing, each step will require a significant compression for maximum viability and at the cost of losing that quality.
There are, however, continuous improvements with Dolby Atmos to allow that high-quality format in the home if you’ve got the proper hardware system set up to enjoy it fully. Keep in mind that in a streaming format, it still is capped at the bitrate of the data transmission and may not be true Dolby Atmos.
The best audio format for music
We don’t have to get as advanced as Dolby Atmos unless you’re looking for the highest creativity levels possible. Dolby Atmos is about realism and adding sound effects in an uncompressed file format. To utilize this in a music format would make the files unmanageably large. That’s why if you’re looking for the best audio format for music, there are a few ways to go about this.
If you’re converting analog music to a digital format, we go back to utilizing WAV format. From there, you’ll have an easy time doing any type of musical editing as it’s the most compatible.
If you’re looking to maintain the quality as close as possible but at the same time still try to save on the high storage demands of WAV files, then consider using AIFF or FLAC formats. These are compressed but lossless compression that allows reducing the size but still maintains a high quality and standard.
When we start shifting towards online streaming music platforms, the best audio format for music can change again. This is because streaming music is literally transferring the data needed to listen to the songs without having them on the device.
Although our cellular and internet speeds have improved significantly, there are still some limitations, especially in crowded and dense locations. This means to make streaming music as effective and universal as possible; we’re looking to compress it down to MPEG Layer III or MP3 formats.
There are some higher quality options when we look at lossy audio codecs out there besides being stuck with only the MP3 codec. You can easily use other codecs such AAC or OGG codecs that are just as compressed as MP3 codecs file-wise but still are able to produce better bitrates and sampling options.
Best audio format for gaming
In gaming, there are two extremes as to which is the best, and it truly depends on how you play games. If you’re going to go with a video game console such as the latest PS5, you’re going to get some of the best audio formats in the industry due to Sony’s parent company.
Sony knows that the PS5 will be utilized on TVs with HDMI cables helping them to take advantage of data transmission and keeping the audio quality high.
The standard setting is PCM with PS5, but you can also switch out to DTS (better for watching TV or movies) and add a third option of Dolby Digital that allows for high quality at a lower bitrate, which could use up fewer resources. When it comes to this type of gaming, it’s both about audio and visual quality.
It can drastically change when we switch over to the PC gaming side of things. PC gaming setups are much more varied than the standardization that comes with getting a console.
There’s different hardware, graphics cards, and quality in each PC, meaning that the best way to make a game PC compatible is to compress it where they can. Therefore, you’ll usually find more compression codecs such as OGG utilized in gaming.
First, because it’s a high-quality lossy codec, and second because it’s also open-source, which is also a perfect option for smaller development houses and indie games. Because there’s so much coding, graphics, and other elements in gaming, audio usually ends up being the first area to save space.
That doesn’t mean it will sound terrible, but it may not always end up being the priority in PC gaming specifically. There are also some developers out there who won’t care about the file size and still end up utilizing combination codecs or the highest quality codecs for audio out there.