Radified guide to a video streaming site
Posted: 25jun2000   

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Have you heard the buzz about streaming video? Seems like everywhere we go, people are talking about how streaming video is the next big thing (TNBT). At a restaurant here in Laguna Beach, just last night, we couldn't help but overhear a group of people at the table next to us discussing how they're planning to stream video over the Net. 

Since the birth of big media, viewers like you & I have had little choice but to watch what the networks & Hollywood fed us. Production costs were prohibitively expensive & distribution was tightly controlled. But what if our sentiments don't jive with those of the Media or Hollywood? Now, with the advent & growth of the Net (form of free distribution), anyone with a burning desire to create movies & a several thousand dollars for a DV camcorder & a PC can create & post their own movies on the Net, for the world to see. This is nothing short of a revolution. 

The main problem with viewing movies/video on the web is bandwidth - which is why movies need to be compressed from their original format. Movies need fat pipes (broadband). Most folks still have skinny pipes (dial-up phones lines). The files we post on the Net are compressed over 100-to-1 from their original (DV) format, and that doesn't include DV's fixed 5-to-1 compression. 

But the Net's bandwidth is increasing daily as more people sign up for broadband services such as Cable or DSL, and the Net's infrastructure continues to be built with more, newer & faster networking hardware. It won't be long before the Net will be able to handle full-blown, full-featured, full-size movies. That's where it's going. 

We stream Real™ media files. Real is the web's most popular streaming format & the closest thing there is to a standard. No doubt, the battles for dominance with Apple (Quicktime) Microsoft (Window's media) will continue, but Real claims 125 million requested downloads & offers cross-platform support (Windows, Mac, Linux). 

One site we visited claims that Real's newest encoding formats rival & maybe even surpass those of much more expen$ive options, such as Sorenson & Media Cleaner pro. See here for this info. Real uses the standard web business model of giving away the client (for free), and charging the ability to encode (with advanced options) & the licensing fees to stream. 

I think Real makes the lion's share of their revenue from streaming licenses. I don't know how much it costs for a license to stream Real media (our web-hosting provider has a 100-stream license), but I don't think it's cheap. At the RealProducer site, they were talking about a special deal that could save you $40K. If that's how much you save, it's gotta be even more expen$ive to buy. 

We currently use RealProducer G2 Plus (v6.1), but have been looking at the new, version 8 beta, cuz Real included an editor in v8 beta that allows you to edit Realvideo files, which includes the ability to join two or more files together. You can get the encoder, RealProducer here for $150, & a year's worth of upgrades for an extra $50. See here

A company named On2 claims to have the most advanced encoder. I've installed their plug-in & was impressed by the quality (we have Cable modem). See here. Copy-n-paste from the site: "Created files can be hosted for streaming on a Real Server containing On2's VP3 Real Server Plug-in, or a TrueCast™ video server, thereby creating the most advanced video streaming experience on the internet." I did not see prices listed anywhere.

We capture DV (720x480, 24-bit color, wav audio) to the hard drive as an AVI file (Matrox RT2000) -> edit the footage as AVI files in (Adobe) Premiere -> output the final product to a single AVI file (more if the segments are longer than 9 minutes, which corresponds to the 2GB file limit in Windows). We then encode these finished AVI's to MPEG-1 (VCD specs) using the Panasonic encoder, and then encode the resultant MPEG-1 file to Realvideo using RealProducer G2 Plus, using Cable/DSL bandwidth specs (220kbps).  

Many ISPs provide customers with some amount of free web space. We have Cox @Home & they offer 10MB web-hosting space, with a monthly x-fer limit of 300MB. While this might be fine for the average user, or those interested in hosting a no-frills web site, fact is, ISP freebies provide neither the services nor space required to stream video. Nor will freebies offered by your local ISP allow you to use your own domain name, which is part of what's so cool about streaming your own movies (streaming them from your own website). 

The option to stream Real™ media is typically a premium service. In other words, most web-hosting providers don’t offer video-streaming as part of their entry-level packages. Rather, streaming typically comes with enhanced (read: more expensive) packages. One company that does offer Real streaming services as part of their entry-level package ($23-$30/month) is Communitech (Kansas City). Learn about them & what they offer here.

Movie files need lots of web space – at least, compared to the typical 'text & graphics' sites. For example, a single, 9-minute Real media movie file, encoded to Cable/DSL bandwidth specs of 220kbps, will claim ~15MB of web space. So it's easy to see that the typical ISP freebie doesn’t offer enough web space for even a single, short movie, if you want decent quality. 

Although Real media can be encoded (compressed) small enough to fit thru a skinny dial-up pipe, the quality suffers so much that we refuse to crunch it that far. The Cable/DSL stream is 220kbps and that's as low as our artistic instincts allow us to go. Streaming video over a dial-up connection is not pretty. 

We provide a non-streaming link for our dial-up friends to download the file (compressed to Cable/DSL bandwidth specs, too fat to stream across dial-up connections). We suggest they use a download agent, that'll restore lost downloads (like GetRight).

If video- and audio quality are not important to you as they are to us, then you might try encoding your Real media files to dial-up bandwidth specs, but be aware that there won't be much (of your original video quality) left. A Real media Cable/DSL stream encoded to 220kbps is already compressed by a factor of 100 to 1 - over that of standard digital video. So maybe you can see why we cringe & balk at the idea of encoding to dial-up specs. 

We've researched various domain name registrars & web-hosting providers, comparing their services, support & pricing. On the following pages, we look at the companies we’ve chosen & give reasons for our selections. If you happen to know of, or come across, a web-hosting provider that offers better services (such as more web space), for a better price, please drop us a line.

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