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The Melonfire Community - The HITG Report
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Wired For Sound
Online radio stations are giving their real-world counterparts some serious competition.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, some bright spark invented a device capable of grabbing signals from the ether and unscrambling them into sounds recognizable to the human ear. The invention was, of course, radio and it represented a pivotal moment in the science of wireless communication, with significant military and non-military applications.

Segue gently into the present...

Sometime in early 1994, a small SillyCon Valley startup named RealNetworks [ http://www.real.com ] embarked on an ambitious project to broadcast audio live over the Internet - in effect, to set up an online radio station, which anyone with a suitable player could access! So, for this week's report, we thought we'd tell you a little bit about the RealAudio or streaming audio technology used to achieve this feat. And after giving you the skinny on what you need to set up your very own online broadcast, we'll direct you to the very best sites for live music, news and reviews!

Before we begin, we need to tell you that RealNetworks isn't the only one with a streaming audio/video package. Vivo [ http://www.vivo.com ], Microsoft [ http://www.microsoft.com/netshow ] and Macromedia [ http://www.macromedia.com ] have their own competing systems. However, a discussion of all these architectures is well beyond the scope of this ezine; so we're going to concentrate all our attention on RealAudio, since it *is* the most well-known of the lot!

One of the most important reasons streaming technology is so cool is that, before it came along, you had to download an entire sound file before you could begin playing it. This was made all the more annoying by the fact that you had no clue if what you were downloading was even worth listening to!

RealAudio, on the other hand, compresses a standard audio file and sends it as a "stream" of information to the listener over the Internet in real-time. The advantage: smaller audio files, faster transmission time and therefore a much shorter wait for the end-user. According to RealNetworks documentation, the compression algorithm used provides a compression ratio of 44 to 1 - quite impressive, we would think!

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