Monthly Archives: May 2012

RAR Is Still A Contender

RAR (Roshal ARchive) is still a popular format in some corners of the internet. In fact, I procured a set of nearly 1500 RAR files that I want to use in a little project. But I didn’t want my program to have to operate directly on the RAR files which meant that I would need to recompress them to another format. Surely, one of the usual lossless compressors commonplace with Linux these days would perform better. Probably not gzip. Maybe not bzip2 either. Perhaps xz, though?

At first, I concluded that xz beat RAR on every single file in the corpus. But then I studied the comparison again and realized it wasn’t quite apples to apples. So I designed a new experiment.

New conclusion: RAR still beats xz on every sample in this corpus (for the record, the data could be described as executable program data mixed with reduced quality PCM audio samples).

My experiment involved first reprocessing the archive files into a new resource archive file format and only compressing that file (rather than a set of files) using gzip, bzip2, xz, and rar at the maximum compression settings.

echo filesize,gzip,bzip2,xz,rar,filename > compressed-sizes.csv
for f in `ls /path/to/files/*`
  gzip -9 --stdout $f > out.gz
  bzip2 -9 --stdout $f > out.bz2
  xz -9 --stdout --check=crc32 $f > out.xz
  rar a -m5 out.rar $f
  stat --printf "%s," $f out.gz out.bz2 out.rar out.xz >> compressed-sizes.csv
  echo $f >> compressed-sizes.csv
  rm -f out.gz out.bz2 out.xz out.rar

Note that xz gets the option '--check=crc32' since I’m using the XZ Embedded library which requires it. It really doesn’t make a huge different in filesize.

Experimental Results
The preceding command line generates compressed-sizes.csv which goes into a Google Spreadsheet (export as CSV).

Here are the full results of the bake-off, graphed:

That’s not especially useful. Here are the top 2 contenders compared directly:

Obviously, I’m unmoved by the data. There is no way I’m leaving these files in their RAR form for this project, marginal space and bandwidth savings be darned. There are other trade-offs in play here. I know there is free source code available for decompressing RAR files but the license wouldn’t mesh well with GPL source code libraries that form the core of the same project. Plus, the XZ Embedded code is already integrated and painstakingly debugged.

During this little exercise, I learned of a little site called Maximum Compression which takes experiments like the foregoing to their logical conclusion by comparing over 200 compression programs on a standard data corpus. According to the site’s summary page, there’s a library called PAQ8PX which posts the best overall scores.

Releasing GME Players and Tools

I just can’t stop living in the past. To that end, I’ve been playing around with the Game Music Emu (GME) library again. This is a software library that plays an impressive variety of special music files extracted from old video games.

I have just posted a series of GME tools and associated utilities up on Github.

Clone the repo and try them out. The repo includes a small test corpus since one of the most tedious parts about playing these files tends to be tracking them down in the first place.

At first, I started with trying to write some simple command line audio output programs based on GME. GME has to be the simplest software library that it has ever been my pleasure to code against. All it took was a quick read through the gme.h header file and it was immediately obvious how to write a simple program.

First, I wrote a command line tool that output audio through PulseAudio on Linux. Then I made a second program that used ALSA. Guess what I learned through this exercise? PulseAudio is actually far easier to program than ALSA.

I also created an SDL player, seen in my last post regarding how to write an oscilloscope. I think I have the A/V sync correct now. It’s a little more fun to use than the command line tools. It also works on non-Linux platforms (tested at least on Mac OS X).

I also wrote some utilities. I’m interested in exporting metadata from these rather opaque game music files in order to make them a bit more accessible. To that end, I wrote gme2json, a program that uses the GME library to fetch data from a game music file and then print it out in JSON format. This makes it trivial to extract the data from a large corpus of game music files and work with it in many higher level languages.

Finally, I wrote a few utilities that repack certain ad-hoc community-supported game music archives into… well, an ad-hoc game music archive of my own device. Perhaps it’s a bit NIH syndrome, but I don’t think certain of these ad-hoc community formats were very well thought-out, or perhaps made sense a decade or more ago. I guess I’m trying to bring a bit of innovation to this archival process.

I haven’t given up on that SaltyGME idea (playing these game music files directly in a Google Chrome web browser via Google Chrome). All of this ancillary work is leading up to that goal.

Silly? Perhaps. But I still think it would be really neat to be able to easily browse and play these songs, and make them accessible to a broader audience.