The Internet has come a long way from Gopher and WAIS sites for distributing information. The World Wide Web has opened up a whole new avenue of products and a more usable method of deploying information. Multimedia has become a popular way to display your ideas over the Internet. There are a number of products on the market to help you deploy multimedia files through the Internet, but most require plugins and if you can't get them configured properly you might be left on the side of the road on the Information Superhighway. Other Internet multimedia components require your clients to install a browser plug-in or special server-side software on your Web server.
GEO Publishing has a pair of products that raise the ante on streaming multimedia over the Internet. These products, Emblaze Audio and Emblaze Video, offer small Java applets to allow their respective media to stream data over the Internet without the need of a plug-in or server-side software.
Gently Down the Stream-ing
In case you've heard these terms before but never quite knew what they meant, here's the abridged version of their definitions. The term streaming refers to a transmission of information in one direction, in which both the client and the server cooperate for uninterrupted data. The client side will buffer a few seconds of data before it starts sending it to the screen and/or speakers. This compensates for any momentary delays in packet delivery. Therefore, streaming audio refers to the uninterrupted one-way transmission of sound bytes to the client, whereas streaming video refers to the uninterrupted one-way transmission of video bytes to the client.
Hear and See the Difference
Emblaze Audio allows you to put streaming audio on your Web site. It handles all of the popular audio sound files - AIFF and SND for Mac users, and WAV for PC users. The Emblaze Audio compression program, as shown in Figure 1, takes your audio file and compresses it for optimal transfer. The compressed file becomes an .EA file and the program generates the necessary HTML document to run the audio file. All you have to do is put the custom Web look and feel you want, and publish it and the Emblaze Audio applet to your Web site. When a person goes to your Web site, as soon as the Java applet loads it starts playing the audio track.
The compression ratio for Emblaze Audio is quite impressive. It was able to compress a 2.7 MB file down to a 201 Kb file. Listening to the file over the Internet with a 28.8 connection, I found the quality to be excellent. The only thing that your clients might not like is that there's no way to stop the audio once it starts unless they move to a different HTML document.
Emblaze Video allows you to add streaming video to your Web site. VideoPro isn't a video editor; it's designed to prepare Microsoft Video (.AVI) files for the Web. Just as with Emblaze Audio, you process your files through a compression application, illustrated in Figure 2. GEO really took a look at their competition for the type of streaming format to consider for this product. There are 12 predefined settings to choose from, ranging from "28.8 with smooth playback, small window with audio" to "T1 smoothest playback, original size image with audio." If you don't like any of these settings, you can select the Advanced option to mix and match your own compression preferences. Unlike the Emblaze Audio interface, you can bring multiple files into a list and compress them one by one, or find the settings you like and compress them all at once. This results in an .EV2 file, and an HTML page is generated with the necessary Java applet arguments. Just customize the HTML page, and publish it and the Emblaze Video applet to the Web. Just like Emblaze Audio, once the Java applet is loaded into memory, not only will you be able to hear the difference you'll also be able to see the difference.
This tool is more difficult to get used to than Emblaze Audio, but that's expected because it has to deal with a lot more settings. The compression ratio for VideoPro is just as impressive as Emblaze Audio. A 17 MB AVI file (320x240 pixels at 15 frames per second running 4.5 minutes) compressed down to 955 KB keeping the same pixel size and frames per second, optimized for a 28.8 modem connection.
Batteries Not Included
Not to discourage you from trying this out yourself, but you should be aware of what you'll need to make it work. Assuming you want to put your multimedia on your site, you'll need software to create your media files. Both Windows and the Macintosh versions come with software that allows you to record audio files, but they're limited as far as the quality and recording time. There's a large amount of shareware and commercial audio recording software out there, so you shouldn't have any problems creating your sound bytes.
Video creation is another story. You can scan the Net for your favorite AVI files, but due to copyright reasons you aren't allowed to put them on your Web site without written permission from the owner. In order to create your own video clips, you'll need to have a video capturing system, like IOMega's Buz or Diamond Multimedia's Supra Video Kit as well as a video input source like a camcorder or videotape player.
With both of these products, you'll be amazed by how easy it is to add multimedia to your Web site. You don't need a super-fast computer with MMX to take advantage of either applet. You don't have to rely on any plug-ins, which will make your target audience happy. And not having to purchase any expensive server-side software will make you, your Webmaster and your wallet very happy. For organizations that have firewall issues, the limited testing that I performed behind one gave me no problems getting to the streaming media, unlike some other streaming media plugins I've used. The manuals for both programs are spartan, but cover everything necessary. There isn't any online help, not that you're going to need it.
These are great products that work well with both Netscape and IE (you might need the service pack for IE 4.9 though). If you've ever wanted to put streaming audio and video on your Web site, these products are definitely worth looking into.
About the Author
David Jung is a senior programmer analyst for a national medical center in Southern California. He is a key architect for all client/server development for the organization. He can be reached at [email protected]