Deutsche Telekom's T-Online is to begin testing an innovative service called Music on Demand, which will give Internet users the ability to download music over digital phone lines.
T-Online is now recruiting participants, hoping to have about 300 by August, when a pilot project of the service is scheduled to start, Deutsche Telekom said in a news release.
Participants will be able to search a database by title, artist or by music category and then download a portion of a song before deciding whether to order it.
All of the top five record companies, PolyGram, Sony, Warner, EMI and BMG, are expected to participate in the pilot, along with some smaller labels, a Deutsche Telekom spokesman said today.
He added that the quality of the recordings is expected to be comparable to that of a mini disk. But he declined to give more details because negotiations with the record companies have not yet concluded.
Users will be able to make their selections by clicking and dragging the song title into a shopping cart. After payment is received, music will be transmitted over a distributed server network using the MPEG Layer 3 international standard.
By using MPEG audio coding, the original sound data from a CD can be shrunk by a factor of 12 without losing sound quality, according to MPEG Layer 3 developers at the Fraunhofer Institut Integrierte Schaltungen in Erlangen.
The music data can be transmitted immediately or at a time designated by pilot project participants - such as at a time of day when telecom rates are low. The speed of transmission will be 128K bits per second over two ISDN lines.
The opportunity to download music is "all over the Internet, but the quality is not there yet," says Lois Gilbert, president of AudioWorks Group in New York, which markets musicians over the Internet.
She estimates it will be another six months before music can be offered over the Internet at the quality listeners expect. She also questions a project in which only the major record companies are participating.
"I think the Internet should be used to level the playing field, especially for jazz and classical musicians," she says. "What's the difference if you're only going after the big five?"
T-Online said customers interested in participating in the pilot must have a Pentium-PC with sound card, an ISDN card with a T-Online decoder, operating system Windows 95 or Win 3.11 and available disk space. One minute of music takes up about 1Mb of storage, according to T-Online.
Participants also will need software for decoding MPEG 1 Layer 3 music files, software for communications between their PC and the audiovisual server system, and music archive software for management of music files.
Deutsche Telekom, in Bonn, Germany, is at at http://www.dtag.de/.