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fre:ac Developer Blog

Welcome to the fre:ac developer blog. I will post status updates and other information about fre:ac development here.



iTunes 12.1 adds 64 bit support on Windows Print
Written by Robert   
Friday, 12 June 2015 15:05

I only now noticed that Apple has added native 64 bit support to iTunes for Windows with version 12.1. Previous releases only had a 64 bit installer that actually installed the 32 bit version of iTunes. This switch is great news as it allows the 64 bit version of fre:ac to use Apple's Core Audio encoder without any hacks and eliminates one of the last reasons to stick to 32 bit fre:ac on 64 bit Windows.

If you are already using the 20141005 x64 version of fre:ac, all you need to do to make use of the encoder is install the latest version of iTunes or upgrade your existing installation to version 12.1 or later. The Core Audio encoder will then show up after restarting fre:ac, replacing the inferior FAAC encoder.

For users of the 32 bit fre:ac snapshot, nothing changes as the new iTunes release still installs the 32 bit version of the Core Audio libraries alongside the 64 bit one.

 
fre:ac development status update 12/2014 Print
Written by Robert   
Wednesday, 31 December 2014 18:27

Besides validation of lossless conversions, I did not announce much of what is coming in the next development release, yet.

One major thing is that the parallel conversion mode introduced in September will no longer be marked experimental and become the default and only mode of operation in the next snapshot. It should be stable enough for general use now and missing features like support for non-on-the-fly conversion are implemented. You will also be able to rip CDs using multiple drives at the same time on Windows with the next snapshot (this already works on Linux and OS X with fre:ac 20141005).

OS X users with modern Macs will be happy to read that I am working on support for Retina displays. I ran into some minor problems there, however, so I'm not 100% sure that it will be ready for the next release.

Besides those things, I am working on fixing issues found in the previous release. One that I would like to mention is the inability to add folders that include sqare brackets [] in their name using drag & drop or the "add folder" function on OS X and Linux. This is due to an internally used system call interpreting the brackets as wildcard characters on those systems. The next release will properly escape those characters before passing them to the system call to fix this issue.

The next snapshot will be available a little later than originally planned. I now expect to be able to release it around the end of January.

 
fre:ac development status update 11/2014 Print
Written by Robert   
Saturday, 29 November 2014 22:27

Here's the fre:ac development status update for November.

I continued work on fre:ac 1.0.23 this month, fixing some bugs and adding support for reading floating point data from Windows Wave files. I planned to release last weekend, but shortly before I got notified that FLAC 1.3.1 would be released a few days later to fix some security issues. Because of that, I decided to delay the fre:ac release by one week in order to be able to include the new FLAC version. It is ready now, so fre:ac 1.0.23 will be released tomorrow.

Regarding the development version, I continued work on the validation feature. However, progress was rather slow in the past few weeks, so I do not have much more to write about.

I can give an estimate for the next snapshot release, though. It should be ready in about six weeks, so expect a new release in early to mid January.

 
fre:ac development status update 10/2014 Print
Written by Robert   
Friday, 31 October 2014 13:27

Here's what happened in fre:ac development in October. Progress was a little slow this month, but I still have some interesting bits and pieces.

Four weeks ago, I released a new snapshot version that fixed several problems found in the September release. The 20141005 snapshot appears to be quite stable and reliable and I suggest everybody to test it! I'm especially interested in your results if you are running fre:ac on a dual or quad core Power Mac. Please email me if you tried fre:ac 20141005 on such a machine.

fre:ac x64 version using the Core Audio encoder.After the October snapshot release, I made plans on what to include in the next one. I already developed an adapter to make the Core Audio encoder available in the 64 bit Windows version. The underlying issue was that iTunes and the Apple Application Support libaries are available in 32 bit only and cannot be used directly by 64 bit applications. The adapter starts a 32 bit helper process and delegates the actual encoding work to it. This removes one of the last reasons for using the 32 bit version of fre:ac on modern 64 bit Windows systems.

Besides working on that, I have incorporated the Lancer patches into the Ogg Vorbis encoder. The patches rewrite certain algorithms in SSE/SSE2 to speed up conversions by approximately 40%. Some other encoders are now compiled using further optimized compiler options to speed them up a little compared to the October snapshot as well. For example, compiling LAME with -mfpmath=sse speeds up the 32 bit version by 6% on my system. The 64 bit version uses SSE by default, so there's no further speedup for that one.

Another thing I would like to have in the next snapshot is support for verification of conversions. This will allow validating lossless encodes and possibly pave the way for CD rip verification in fre:ac. I'll probably have more news on this in November or December.

While analyzing and comparing conversion speed of different fre:ac releases, I discovered an issue with the MP3 decoder component of fre:ac 1.0.22. The bug can make fre:ac crash when converting MP3 files to other formats and I think it's responsible for most of the crashes people still experienced with fre:ac 1.0.22 and earlier versions. I have a fix for this and will probably release fre:ac 1.0.23 in November. Recent snapshot versions are not affected by that problem.

This closes this months issue. I'll probably give an estimate on the next snapshot's release date next month.

 
Looking for dual/quad PowerMac testers Print
Written by Robert   
Tuesday, 14 October 2014 13:03

I posted this request in the PowerMac forum of MacRumors.com earlier today, but they immediately deleted the post and permanently banned my account. I'm surprised and quite disappointed by their harsh behaviour. Seems like they are not willing to help open source developers support their platform.

As you'll probably know, I added support for parallel conversions in the 20140921 snapshot. Speedups were great on the computers I tested on and users reported similar results on their systems. However, I have not been able to test the parallel conversion mode on multi-processor PowerMacs, yet. I only have a single-processor G4 PowerBook to test the PowerPC version on, so I'm now looking for people who could give it a try on a dual/quad PowerMac. Results for a quad G5 would be especially interesting.

If you would like to help, please use the 20141005 release for your tests. Note that you will need at least OS X 10.5 Leopard for fre:ac to work. Additionally, you'll have to enable parallel conversions on the Resources page of the configuration dialog, as it is still experimental and disabled by default. Also note that parallel processing is supported for file conversions only, not CD ripping (unless you have multiple drives).

Please post your results in the SourceForge forum or send them to info@freac.org. Thanks to everyone who participates!

 
fre:ac development status update 09/2014 Print
Written by Robert   
Tuesday, 30 September 2014 22:40

Here's the September issue of the fre:ac development status update.

The biggest news this month is the release of fre:ac snapshot 20140921 with experimental support for parallel conversions. Surprise!

Admittedly, this actually was not planned that way. While I had plans to add support for parallel conversions in a future release after fre:ac 1.1, I had a very complex architecture in mind. The decoding and encoding would run in different threads exchanging data using a ring buffer. However, building it that way would have taken several months, so I planned to release fre:ac 1.1 without it.

Then, about a month ago, I suddenly had the idea of doing it differently: Why not simply take the existing conversion code, but run several parallel instances of it - each processing a part of the joblist? Thought about it, started coding and had a working proof of concept after one day. About a week later, it was good enough to consider inclusion in the September snapshot as an experimental option - which finally came to be.

The originally planned solution would probably give an additional 1-5% speedup for single file conversions, but this is available now and the original ideas can still be implemented on top of the current solution at a later date.

When activating parallel mode in the configuration dialog, you can select how many CPU cores and thus parallel conversion threads should be used. The automatic option will use all the physical cores, leaving virtual cores alone, so you can still work while fre:ac is running in the background. You can move the slider to enable the use of virtual cores or set it to less than the total number of cores to avoid 100% CPU use on systems without hyper-threading support.

But enough of the talk, lets look at the numbers, which are really great! The charts show the time taken to convert the album Blonde by Coeur de Pirate from FLAC to MP3 on Windows 7 and OS X Mavericks using default settings (click to enlarge):

fre:ac 20140921 performance on Windowsfre:ac 20140921 performance on OS X

Mostly thanks to the use of more agressive optimization options for compiling the codecs, even the non parallel mode is roughly 30% faster than fre:ac 20140609 on my development system. In parallel mode, there's an additional speedup of 4.4x when using all 8 threads.

Truly groundbreaking are the numbers for OS X. Thanks to additional optimizations of the OS X code, non-parallel fre:ac 20140921 is more than 4x faster than 20140609 on my Mac. Using parallel mode even speeds it up 18x vs. the June snapshot. Even on my old PowerBook G4 with only one CPU core, fre:ac is actually usable now.

Where there's light, there must be some shadow, though, so the bad news is that some problems have been found in the September snapshot that I'm currently fixing. Most notably, decoding Vorbis files in parallel mode produces garbled audio and the 32 bit Windows version of fre:ac immediately crashes on some CPUs (definitely on Athlon 64, but possibly others as well) when trying to use the LAME, FLAC, Vorbis, Opus or Speex codecs. I will release a new snapshot in early October to address these issues.

 
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