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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.

The RealAudio system consists of three basic components: a server, a client and an encoder. Let's take a closer look at each of these villains:

The server: As generally understood in the rarefied language of technocrats such as ourselves, a server is a system whose purpose is to "serve", or make available, data as and when requested by another system, popularly known as a "client". And, as we're sure you've guessed, a RealAudio server simply makes a RealAudio encoded sound file available to the client as and when requested.

However, a particular advantage with the RealAudio system is that any common Web server can serve RealAudio files; a special-purpose RealAudio server is not required, except in the case of live transmissions. And the reason this is such an advantage is that there are a large number of freely available Web servers which, with only minor modifications, can make a website RealAudio-capable.

The client: Now that we're done with the server, let's talk about the client. In this case, the client is the RealAudio player application, imaginatively called...yup, RealPlayer! This is the software which connects to the server and downloads, decompresses and plays back the sound file.

The encoder: The encoder is what is used to make the conversion from a standard .WAV or .AU file to the RealAudio (.RA ) file format. It is essentially a tool which takes in an uncompressed audio file as input and outputs a RealAudio encoded file, which is sent by the server to the client whenever the client requests it. In the case of live transmissions, the encoder will compress input from external input sources like a microphone in real-time.

And to round this up, an explanation of exactly what happens when you click a RealAudio link in your browser:

1. User clicks link, which references a .RAM ( RealAudio Metafile ) file, essentially a text file which contains the location of the actual RealAudio ( .RA ) file.

2. Assuming a properly-configured Web server and RealPlayer client, browser begins to download the file. Header information in the file identifies it as a RealAudio file, which in turn activates RealPlayer, which pops up and begins decoding and playing the file back through the output device, usually speakers.

3. User immediately stops working, the better to hear the wonderful music coming his way. Productivity drops, the company shuts down and user finds himself out on the street selling matchboxes in the rain.

In order to assist interested users (and perhaps, garner itself some free publicity), RealNetworks has made available, on its website, free versions of its RealServer, RealPlayer and RealEncoder software. Although these lack some of the features found in the commercial versions, they are more than sufficient for experiments...and you can't beat the price!

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