The buzz around streaming media

By Jason Meserve, Network World |  Development

SAN JOSE -- That buzz you hear coming from California this week is not the sound of overworked electrical generators, but the hype surrounding online multimedia here at Streaming Media West.

There are some 275 exhibitors at the show, filling up nearly every corner of the San Jose Convention Center, all hoping to grab some part of a pie that will have an estimated size of $50 billion by 2005, according to Deutche Bank. 2001 could be a banner year for streaming, with vendors from the server, network and software sides of the business all working to make streaming more efficient in the corporate network.

To kick off the show, archrivals RealNetworks and Microsoft issued dueling product announcements for the latest releases of their respective streaming platforms. RealNetworks Monday introduced its RealSystem iQ product for delivering streaming media over content delivery and corporate networks. The system includes a new proxy server and Version 8 of the company's RealServer for hosting and delivery of media files.

Microsoft followed suit on Tuesday, when company President Steve Ballmer introduced Windows Media audio and video 8 during his keynote. Though the company's version numbering scheme seems like an attempt to keep pace with RealNetworks, the actual technology seems impressive, based on demos and Microsoft-supplied statistics about its new encoder/decoder software. Version 8 is said to be able to deliver near-DVD-quality video across a 500K bit/sec connection, down from 750K bit/sec in the previous release for similar quality.

MPEG 4 also is a hot topic here. Many vendors previewed products that support the yet-to-be-ratified standard that uses layering technology to deliver higher-quality streams to narrow and broadband connections with a single file. Unlike previous versions of MPEG, which deliver just plain audio and video, MPEG 4 contains a number of features for adding interactivity and support for multiple rich media streams within the same presentation.

Unlike the technologies used by RealNetworks and Microsoft, MPEG 4 will not be a proprietary format requiring that the player and server software come from the same vendor. MPEG 4 is designed to be the Java of streaming media: write once, play anywhere.

Other highlights from the show include:

  • Eloquent, maker of streaming media presentation software, shed its proprietary media format, opting instead to use Windows Media Technology in Version 6.1 of its Eloquent Communications Server (ECS). Also added to ECS 6.1 is the ability for users to convert their own PowerPoint slides and adding video from a desktop Web cam. Users also can integrate existing rich media files into their presentation more easily.
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