The FezGuys
IFEZ Introduces Streamcore - A New Angle On Website Audio
[ No. 23 - September 1998 ]

Things That Are New

What the hell is going on in the land of Streaming Media Apps? First the RealNetworks folks cozy up to Jabba the Microsoft Hut and exchanges of stock cement their inevitable alliance. Now, suddenly, RealNetworks reels away from its bigger-than-the-Big-Bang host and cries: "Foul, foul!"

It seems that after the RealAudio folks (having since changed their name to RealNetworks) and Microsoft worked together for a while the latter quietly made available a streaming media player (called Media Player) for its Windows operating system that has been known to override the RealPlayer app installed on your computer. Sure the integration of a simplistic player with one's computer OS is efficient. The question is: what is Microsoft's commitment to upgrading the technology? RealNetworks constantly releases new versions in their laudable effort to increase the quality of their product. It seems unlikely that Microsoft will focus as much or more energy towards updating their Media Player to always play these new versions. There are so many other more important things to do. Like using their Washington-based trade group Business Software Alliance to sue schools in Los Angeles for illegally making copies of Windows operating systems. A company as omnipresent as Microsoft should be giving away their products to schools. But we digress.

It's difficult to tell who is playing whom in the verbal skirmish between Microsoft and RealNetworks. Microsoft actually owns a considerable chunk of RealNetworks. It would be a lot more entertaining if, instead of spending time in front of congress, they'd both spend it bridging the gap to where we, the *users*, could manipulate and listen to music online that sounds as good as a CD playing in a forty dollar boombox. We really don't care about the legal wrangles of corporations. We'd like music on the Web to sound good. Ok kids, time to stop pointing fingers and make it work. Sharing time is happy time.

In other news: Xing Streamworks has announced the release of its new MP3 software encoder. It's built up from a proprietary codec created by their own big-brained engineers rather than the oft-used German Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft codec. The company purports its product to be 8 times faster than other MP3 encoders. How that figure is measured we don't care as long as it's accurate. The encoder comes in two versions: a streaming encoder and a static encoder. The streaming version is freely available right now (along with the server), while the static encoder will run you $19.95. We'll be looking at it closely next month. You can get more info and buy it online for at <>

Ever watched your pet sit up and cock their head to one side while looking off into space? What are they listening to? Maybe it's the voices in their head. Maybe it's the music of the spheres. Maybe it's an earthquake. We can't hear it, and it makes us wonder. But, unlike our pets who, after a period of time lie down and place their head on a paw and go to sleep, we want to Do Something about the voice in our head. Humans tend to want to express themselves. This is sometimes called sentiency. Or glossolalia.

We're going to straddle the line between Internet radio and music appreciation. It may be both or neither. Here's an idea to incorporate both traditions. What name might we give to our odd child of distantly related parents? Internet radio has been called "cybercasting", "netcasting" and "webcasting." Let's chuck the whole "-casting" suffix and call it "streamcore."

Some of you have web sites with encoded audio. You offer streaming and on-demand downloads. You've optimized your sounds and made your site attractive and relevant. You've promoted yourself, upgraded your apps and spent quality time creating a vibrant and useful work of art. You've even made double-plus-good sure that the music on your site is music you have the legal right to place there. What's next? Well, how about creating original, radio-like programming for your web site?

The idea here is to put a slightly different twist onto the way audio is commonly presented on web sites. We're going to assume you have already encoded RealAudio files and made them available on your web site through individual links. How about stringing them together to create a program like you might hear on the radio? To make it more personable, how about dropping in some verbal editorial content between these pieces of music? You can describe the music, explaining how it was made, who wrote it, or even how it can be purchased. How can you do this, you ask? Through the wonderful little file called a RealMedia metafile.

A RealMedia metafile is the file whose name ends with ".ram" and contains a list of one or more RealMedia files (audio, video, etc) to play. Since you already have RealAudio files on your web site, you're already familiar with creating them (if not, please reference to FezGuys column #4, Feb. '97). Typically, each metafile has only one entry, but with a little knowledge and creativity, you can list any number of RealMedia audio files and create your own program. This metafile could play while a visitor to your site is browsing through your various pages, reading text, looking at images or even rewriting their resume. This metafile can be used like radio, but there's no need to limit yourself. After all, in this original approach to broadcasting your listeners don't have to suffer through monster truck advertising, boring programming and stilted commentary. Of course you can do that if you want, but it's been done already. You can create your metafile any damn way you please. You can have samples of your cat's meow or seventeen minutes of foghorn blasts. Don't scoff; it's been done. The point here is: the same techniques you used to create your online audio content can be applied to assembling potentially interesting and original programming of your own. Remember that if your ISP doesn't have streaming capability you can always use HTTP streaming (see the Letters section below). Let's go farther and suggest that you could create seven different metafiles of sound and voice. If you activate a different metafile, each day visitors to your site get another reason to visit you repeatedly: dynamic content! Even easier, you could make seven different HTML pages, moving a different one into place each day. You UNIX-jockeys have the privilege of being able to write script for this to occur automatically.

What's Cool

RealNetworks has upgraded their free server product. What used to be their EasyStart server is now known as Basic Server 5.0. This product will stream your own RealAudio or Video, eliminating reliance on your ISP, should they even support it. All you need is a computer that's online all the time and has enough Internet connectivity to support the size of your audience. The Basic Server 5.0 provides 25 streams. Go to: <>. Typically an ISP will not let you install your own streaming application on their computer which is why you'll need one of your own. One (legal, not software) limitation with the free version is that you cannot resell the free streams to others. Also available is the Basic Server Plus ($695.00) which offers the ability to serve up to 60 simultaneous streams and permits commerce. Along with the Plus comes an offer to include RealFlash streaming (a vector/animation app created in concert with Macromedia) for an extra $295.00 and a one year upgrade and tech support option for an additional $395.00. Charging almost four hundred dollars for the privilege of asking questions does not even come close to paying for the real live human technician at RealNetworks who provides the answers but it's still galling that a consumer must pay. The main value to actually buying the Plus is assuring the next version (which likely will be released before 1999) will be free to you. The RealNetworks Basic Server is for Windows or UNIX operating systems only. Mac users are SOL. Maybe now is a good time for Mac users to bombard the marketing and promotions departments of RealNetworks with requests for Mac versions of this Basic Server and the new G2 client. Here are some email addresses: <> or <>. Make your voice heard!

In keeping with our commitment to bring you practical explanations and applications of our suggestions we've provided a simple example of metafile programming on our web site. Try playing with our programming at: <>. We've also registered our little streamcore project under a new domain: <>. We figure, instead of the traditional "K" or "W" letter denoting a traditional United States radio station, we'd use the letter "I" (for Internet, of course!).

Internet streamcore may be the birth of a new art form.

Letters To The FezGuys

Alright...I downloaded RealAudio's encoder and I want to stream music from my web site BUT my ISP does not have a "RealServer". Is there a place I can get on-line tutorials or do you have any sage advice on how I can publish my streaming media? It seems easy enough to encode .WAVs and .AVIs etc., but I just don't know what to do next! Hep Me! Ow, my eye! - The Butt

Dear Butt,

Check out FezGuys columns #4 (Feb. '97 - "Placing Your Song On The Web") and #6 (Apr. 97 - "Geek Thy Neighbor") on how to encode RealAudio and then use HTTP streaming of RealAudio files, respectively. There is more in-depth information on HTTP streaming available at . And get somebody to look at that eye! - The FezGuys


In FezGuys column #21 we incorrectly reported that Audioactive was in Detroit. It's actually in Cleveland. Woopsie! The FezGuys apologize for the error.



About the authors:

Jon Luini is a working technophile, a musician (bass player/singer) with full-blown facility and extensive experience on the Web and no free time. He is a co-founder of IUMA and MediaCast, co-creator of Addicted To Noise, and runs an Internet and music consulting and technology company, Chime Interactive (formerly Evolve Internet Solutions). <>

Allen Whitman is a working musician (bass player/singer/producer) with a keen, real-world interest in the practical use of the Web. Music credits include: The Mermen, "Brine-The Antisurf Soundtrack, biL, Deep Field South, Doormouse, Delectric and Drizzoletto. He has written for the San Francisco Examiner, Wired, EQ, Revolution, Yahoo Internet Life, Prosound News, Surround Professional, Replication News and others. <>

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