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What is the AC3 codec?

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Quick Answer

The AC3 codec is the computer program used to encode and decode the AC3 lossy digital audio format. This format was developed to stream audio in motion picture presentations. Its adaptation is widespread, ranging from audio theaters to homes. It is part of the proprietary Dolby Digital codec family.

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Full Answer

The AC3 codec supports a theoretical maximum bit rate of 640 kilobytes per second. Limitations in home entertainment software and hardware limit the actual maximum bit rate to 448 kilobytes per second. AC3 underwent an upgrade in 2010, when Dolby introduced the enhanced AC3 bitstream syntax. Players that are compatible with this latter format are backwards compatible with the older version of AC3.

AC3 audio containers are uncommon, but they are occasionally used while authoring a DVD. These audio files are multiplexed with a video stream to render the final audio or video that is burned to the disc. Some stand-alone audio files may have the AC3 extension, requiring the codec for playback.

AC3 has exceptional fidelity at bit rates below 400 kilobytes per second. This codec also supports 5.1 surround sound. Above this cut-off, Dolby's AAC codec gives better performance. AAC is considerably more complex than AC3 though, limiting its usage to high-end applications.

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