What's the Difference Between MP3 and MP4?

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You have a favorite podcast. Maybe you keep an extensive (and legally-acquired) music library. Sometimes those audio files have an MP3 format noted. Other times, it might be designated MP4. Should you be concerned over audio quality? Is MP3 vs. MP4 a comparison you should worry about making?

First, let's take a quick look at the basics: MP3 stands for MPEG-1 Audio Layer 3. The format was approved in 1991 as a way for audio to be compressed and reduced to a file that was more easily transmitted online. In the simplest definition, MP3s keep their size to a minimum by reducing the information, or sound, that the human ear can’t pick up on. While there were MP1 and MP2 file formats, MP3 improved on the compression and became the standard in audio files that could be shared without sacrificing a noticeable amount of quality in the process—though that is, obviously, highly subjective.

In 2003, the MP4 format was finalized. Short for MPEG-4 Part 14, it’s based on the Apple QuickTime MOV format. While MP3 and MP4 comfortably coexist, there are some significant differences, with the most prominent being MP4’s versatility.

MP3s are generally audio-only files; the format is not able to handle video or imaging. MP4, on the other hand, is a multimedia facilitator. It can handle video, stills, subtitles, or text because it’s a “container” format that stores data rather than just code.

Debating the versatility merits of MP3 vs. MP4 doesn’t really answer the question of which is better for audio purposes or whether you should seek out one type over the other. For audio, the reality is that neither one offers a superior sound experience on format alone. “Lossy” audio, or audio that loses information so it can be reduced in size, is the case for both MP3 and MP4. MP4, however, makes use of codecs that may compress files in different ways. So, while MP4 is not inherently a superior format for sound, it has the capability to offer an upgrade in quality depending on how it’s being used. MP4s typically have the ability to take advantage of Advanced Audio Coding, or AAC, which can encode audio at a higher bitrate (the data used) than MP3s can, and usually sound better even if the bitrate is the same. AAC is what you’ll find in Apple’s iTunes store.

Naturally, a recording is only as good as the source material. If your favorite podcast is taking place in a poorly arranged studio setup, it doesn’t matter what format it’s being offered in. And if you're listening on a pair of cheap earbuds while jogging, you're less likely to hear major differences in audio than if you were using a sensitive pair of headphones.

Still, as with most tech innovations, the standards are always changing; in May 2017, the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits—the group that helped to develop the MP3 technology—claimed that the format is essentially dead and announced that its "licensing program for certain MP3 related patents and software of Technicolor and Fraunhofer IIS has been terminated."

You may want to consider converting from one file format to another if your phone or other playback device only supports one type. Otherwise, audiophiles truly concerned about sound quality should probably disregard any MP3 vs. MP4 discussion and opt for FLAC, WAV, or other files that are “lossless.” They’ll take up a lot of storage space due to a lack of compression, but they’ll typically sound better than the rest of the internet’s alphabet soup.

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What's the Difference Between Pigeons and Doves?

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To the layman, the difference between pigeons and doves has something to with color, maybe. Or location. Or general appeal (doves usually get much better press than pigeons do). But what’s the actual, scientific difference between doves and pigeons?

As it turns out, there isn’t one. Paul Sweet, the collection manager for the department of ornithology at the American Museum of Natural History, says the difference is more linguistic than taxonomic.

“The word dove is a word that came into English from the more Nordic languages, whereas pigeon came into English from French,” Sweet tells Mental Floss.

Both dove and pigeon refer to the 308 species of birds from the Columbidae family, Sweet says. There’s no difference between a pigeon and a dove in scientific nomenclature, but colloquial English tends to categorize them by size. Something called a dove is generally smaller than something called a pigeon, but that’s not always the case. A common pigeon, for example, is called both a rock dove and a rock pigeon.

“People just have their own classification for what makes them different,” Sweet says. “So in the Pacific, for example, the big ones might get called pigeons and the smaller ones might be called doves, but they’re actually more closely related to each other than they are to other things in, say, South America, that are called pigeons and doves.”

The difference boils down to linguistic traditions, so feel free to tell people you’re releasing pigeons at your wedding or that you’re feeding doves in the park. Scientifically speaking, you’ll be correct either way.

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What Is the Wilhelm Scream?

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What do Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean, Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, Toy Story, Reservoir Dogs, Titanic, Anchorman, 22 Jump Street, and more than 200 other films and TV shows have in common? Not much besides the one and only Wilhelm Scream.

The Wilhelm Scream is the holy grail of movie geek sound effects—a throwaway sound bite with inauspicious beginnings that was turned into the best movie in-joke ever when it was revived in the 1970s.

Just what is it? Chances are you’ve heard it before but never really noticed it. The Wilhelm Scream is a stock sound effect that has been used in both the biggest blockbusters and the lowest low-budget movies and television shows for over 60 years, and is usually heard when someone onscreen is shot or falls from a great height.

First used in the 1951 Gary Cooper western Distant Drums, the distinctive yelp began in a scene in which a group of soldiers wade through a swamp, and one of them lets out a piercing scream as an alligator drags him underwater.

As is the case with many movie sound effects, the scream was recorded later in a sound booth with the simple direction to make it sound like “a man getting bit by an alligator, and he screams.” Six screams were performed in one take, and the fifth scream on the recording became the iconic Wilhelm (the others were used for additional screams in other parts of the movie).

Following its debut in 1951, the effect became a regular part of the Warner Bros. sound library and was continually used by the studio’s filmmakers in their movies. Eventually, in the early 1970s, a group of budding sound designers at USC’s film school—including future Academy Award-winning sound designer Ben Burtt—recognized that the unique scream kept popping up in numerous films they were watching. They nicknamed it the “Wilhelm Scream” after a character in the first movie they all recognized it from, a 1963 western called The Charge at Feather River, in which a character named Private Wilhelm lets out the pained scream after being shot in the leg by an arrow.

As a joke, the students began slipping the effect into the student films they were working on at the time. After he graduated, Burtt was tapped by fellow USC alum George Lucas to do the sound design on a little film he was making called Star Wars. As a nod to his friends, Burtt put the original sound effect from the Warner Bros. library into the movie, most noticeably when a Stormtrooper is shot by Luke Skywalker and falls into a chasm on the Death Star. Burtt would go on to use the Wilhelm Scream in various scenes in every Star Wars and Indiana Jones movie, causing fans and filmmakers to take notice.

Directors like Peter Jackson and Quentin Tarantino, as well as countless other sound designers, sought out the sound and put it in their movies as a humorous nod to Burtt. They wanted to be in on the joke too, and the Wilhelm Scream began showing up everywhere, making it an unofficial badge of honor. It's become bigger than just a sound effect, and the name “Wilhelm Scream” has been used for everything from a band name, to a beer, to a song title, and more.

But whose voice does the scream itself belong to? Burtt himself did copious amounts of research, as the identity of the screamer was unknown for decades. He eventually found a Warner Bros. call sheet from Distant Drums that listed actors who were scheduled to record additional dialogue after the film was completed. One of the names, and the most likely candidate as the Wilhelm screamer, was an actor and musician named Sheb Wooley, who appeared in classics like High Noon, Giant, and the TV show Rawhide. You may also know him as the musician who sang the popular 1958 novelty song “Purple People Eater.”

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