Streaming video is a
sequence of "moving images" that are sent in compressed form
over the Internet and displayed by the viewer as they
arrive. Streaming media is streaming video with sound. With
streaming video or streaming media, a Web user does not have
to wait to download a large file before seeing the video or
hearing the sound. Instead, the media is sent in a
continuous stream and is played as it arrives. The user
needs a player, which is a special program that
uncompresses and sends video data to the display and audio
data to speakers. A player can be either an integral part of
a browser or downloaded from the software maker's Web site.
Major streaming video and
streaming media technologies include RealSystem G2 from
RealNetwork, Microsoft Windows Media Technologies (including
its NetShow Services and Theater Server), and VDO.
Microsoft's approach uses the standard MPEG compression
algorithm for video. The other approaches use
proprietary algorithms. (The program that does the
compression and decompression is sometimes called the
codec.) Microsoft's technology offers streaming audio at
up to 96
Kbps and streaming video at up to 8
Mbps (for the NetShow Theater Server). However, for most
Web users, the streaming video will be limited to the data
rates of the connection (for example, up to 128 Kbps with an
ISDN connection). Microsoft's streaming media files are in
its Advanced Streaming Format (ASF).
Streaming video is usually
sent from prerecorded video files, but can be distributed as
part of a live broadcast "feed." In a live broadcast, the
video signal is converted into a compressed digital signal
and transmitted from a special Web server that is able to do
multicast, sending the same file to multiple users at
the same time.
Enjoying Audio and Video
Half the fun of using the
Internet today is enjoying its rich multi-media content.
Whether you are watching video clips or listening to audio
messages, radio stations and music, the Internet has plenty
In order to listen to audio
and watch video over the Internet, you need several things.
Obviously, you need a computer with an Internet connection.
Your computer must also be equipped with a sound card and
speakers, and you will need an Internet browser like
Netscape Navigator or Microsoft Internet Explorer, which you
are probably using right now. While Microsoft Internet
Explorer and Netscape Navigator do a great job of helping
you browse the Internet, they do not have any audio or video
capabilities. That's why you need one other thing. You need
audio/video software. Fortunately, the two most popular
software programs of this type, Real Networks RealAudio
player and Microsoft's Window's Media Player are both free.
The current version of the Real player is called RealOne.
The current version of Microsoft's player is version 9.
RealOne by RealNetworks is
one of the premier programs for streaming audio and video.
When you download Real player, you actually get three
plug-ins, one for audio, one for video, and one for
animation. The player is free, and it's also quick and easy
to download. Once you have downloaded the player, you can go
to any Web page that has a RealAudio file, click your mouse
on the icon, and listen to the streaming audio and/or watch
Microsoft Windows Media
Player is also a very popular audio/video player. Besides
differences in look, feel, and certain enhancements, Windows
Media Player performs the exact same functions as the
RealOne player. Many audio and video files on the Internet
are media specific. That means the audio/video files at some
of the Web sites that you visit, like this AARP Web site
will use the RealNetworks files. Others will use Microsoft's
files. You can download both the Media Player and
RealPlayer. They will both happily reside on your computer
Downloading and installing
an audio/video player such as
Windows Media Player is like downloading any piece of
software. If you are unfamiliar with downloading software,
How To on Downloading Files.
To download RealOne, go to
the RealAudio site. You will immediately see an offer to
purchase the RealOne Super Pass and links to a "Free
Download" and "Fourteen Day Free Trial". These are players
that you must pay for. You want to download the "Free
RealOne Player". As I write this, the link to this free
player is at the top right hand side of the page. However
RealNetworks seems to constantly change their pages and move
the links. They actually make it difficult to find the link
to the free player, in hopes that you will opt to pay them
for the Super Pass version. My advice here is to download
the free player first. After installation, if you find that
you use the player a lot, you might want to upgrade to the
pay version, but the free player will give you everything
that you need.
You can download the free
Microsoft Media Player at the
Microsoft Web site. You can also
order the Media Player on a CD for $9.95. Since the
Media Player is a large download, if you have a slow
Internet connection you might want to order the CD.
Downloading either of these
two players is a one-time occurrence. Once they are on your
computer you will be able to play the audio and video from
most Web sites.
One extremely nice part
about the audio player is that you can leave the site where
you started the audio, and the audio will continue to play
until you turn it off. This gives you great flexibility. For
instance, I can go to the WGN Web page (one of my favorite
talk radio stations in Chicago) and start playing the
current on-air radio show. I can then continue to surf the
Web or go back to my word processing program while listening
to the "radio" in the background.
Listen and Watch
Once you have the RealOne
player installed, a good place to start is
AARP Radio, where you can listen to weekly interview
programs and daily news features. You may want to visit a
Web site like
Web-Radio where you can get links to radio stations from
around the world you can listen to online. And don't forget,
these players will also allow you to view videos. Try some
movie studios like
Paramount or news Web sites like
try out the video.
Get comfortable and perk up
your eyes and ears. Listening to audio and watching video
over the Internet can be a great experience.