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HE-AAC and HE-AACv2
The MPEG-4 “High Efficiency Profile” (HE-AAC), which combines MPEG-4 AAC-LC and the parametric SBR tool, further reduces overall bit rate while maintaining excellent audio quality. Running below 128 kbits/s for stereo signals, HE-AAC shrinks the bit rate up to 30% compared to AAC-LC at equivalent audio quality.
For HE-AAC, the lower part of the audio spectrum is coded with AAC-LC, while the SBR tool encodes the upper part of the spectrum. SBR is a parametric approach that uses the relationship of the lower and upper part of the spectrum for a guided recreation of the signal’s entire audio spectrum. To reduce the bit rate even more, the AAC-LC-encoded lower part is coded with half the sampling frequency of the overall signal.
HE-AAC typically uses 48- to 64-kbit/s data rates for stereo and 160-kbit/s rates for 5.1 multichannel signals. Like AAC-LC, HE-AAC supports sampling rates from 8 to 192 kHz and up to 48 channels, as well as audio-specific metadata.
The “High Efficiency AAC v2 Profile” (HE-AACv2) adds the PS tool to HE-AAC. It thus applies a parametric approach to coding the stereo signal, achieving a further reduction in bit rate. Instead of transmitting two channels, the PS encoder extracts parameters from the stereo signal. This enables reconstruction of the stereo signal at the decoder side and produces a mono downmix, which is HE-AAC encoded.
The PS data is transmitted together with the SBR data in the ancillary data fields of the AAC bit stream. The decoder decodes the mono signal and the PS decoder recreates the stereo image. Transmission of the HE-AAC encoded mono signal with parametric data for the stereo image is more efficient than transmitting a two-channel HE-AAC encoded signal. HE-AACv2 typically features 24- to 32-kbit/s data rates for a stereo signal.
AAC and HE-AAC are found in many of today’s applications. In particular, AAC and HE-AAC are established as the main audio codecs (besides mp3) in a host of Internet applications.
HE-AACv2 is widely established in state-of-the-art TV broadcast systems. It’s part of the DVB toolbox and a mandatory codec in most countries that recently introduced the second generation of terrestrial TV, such as Spain, Great Britain, France, Ireland, Sweden, Austria, Italy, Denmark, Finland, and Norway. In Brazil and many other South American countries, HE-AAC is the only audio codec defined for terrestrial TV broadcast.
In addition, HE-AAC is an established part of the Smart TV environment. For example, it’s the mandatory codec for the Hybrid Broadcast Broadband TV (HbbTV) data service in Europe. As a result, all HD-capable TV receiver devices, such as TV sets and set-top boxes being sold in Europe and South America, support HE-AAC. All major broadcast encoder manufacturers included HE-AAC in their devices long ago. Of course, HE-AACv2 supports all relevant broadcast metadata.
HE-AAC has become the dominant audio-streaming codec. All major streaming and media platforms support HE-AAC, including Flash, Silverlight, Windows Media Player, Winamp, and iTunes. Operating systems Mac OS X and Windows come with HE-AAC, as do the iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Symbian, and BlackBerry mobile systems. Today’s established http adaptive streaming systems such as Apple HLS, Microsoft Smooth Streaming, and Adobe Dynamic Streaming also are based on codecs of the AAC family.
HE-AACv2 is an important part of other streaming standards in the consumer electronics domain, playing an integral role in electronics such as Open IPTV Forum, ATIS, HbbTV, and DLNA. Consequently, almost all digital TVs, Blu-ray players, set-top boxes, and gaming consoles support the codec. This widespread support of HE-AACv2 makes it the codec of choice for content providers. That’s why most Web radios (e.g., Pandora, Aupeo, Hulu, and BBC iPlayer) are based on HE-AACv2.