Kristen Tetherton  

Streaming media is the ability to play audio and video files from the Internet or an Intranet without having to download the entire file.  When users access these files over the Internet the media will stream in real time through the network to the users workstation. This process is accomplished by taking an audio and/or video source, encoding it, and finally, storing it on a streaming server for access over the Internet.  This is not a very technical description nor is this paper meant to be.  The following will give the reader a basic understanding of the video streaming process and what decisions need to be made to start video streaming.

To begin with, it is assumed that the audio and video sources already exist.  The source may exist on videotape, audiotape, a video or media server, another storage device, or it can be a live source.  In order to implement media streaming the first thing that needs to be discussed are the components that are needed.  These components include hardware, software and a connection to the Internet or Intranet.  A typical streaming media platform would include the encoding station, encoding software, streaming server, streaming server software, and the facility backbone (connection).

The encoding station is the computer where the audio and video is encoded (input) and manipulated in the computer. The encoding station is basically a computer with a video and audio capture card and the necessary encoding software loaded into it.  Encoding stations come in a wide variety of choices.  Many manufacturers supply turnkey encoding stations or they can be built from the ground up using components supplied by various manufacturers. The Clarinet, made by Chyron, is an example of a turnkey system.  The Clarinet will encode audio and video and output to Real, Microsoft, and eventually Apple streaming formats. 

If it is decided that an encoding station will be built from the ground up, many decisions will need to be made on the types of hardware and software that will be integrated.  The first decision should be on the type of software platform that will be used for both encoding and streaming. The encoding software platform is directly related to the streaming server software platform so it is wise to decide what streaming software will be used in conjunction with the encoding software.  This will insure against any compatibility issues.  The encoding and streaming server software can be either Windows or Mac based.  Unix platforms are also available.  Once the software format is determined then the hardware components that will make up the encoding station can be determined.  The software manufacturer can provide a list of compatible hardware components.

Once a computer platform of  Windows or Mac based is determined  then the encoding media format can be determined.  The encoded media format is based on which streaming software manufacturer is selected.  The three main encoding formats are from Real, Microsoft, and Apple.  The encoding station and streaming server can be one in the same but it is recommended having a separate server for streaming.  The video streaming software resides on the streaming server and the encoding software will reside on the encoding station.  The encoding and streaming software must be compatible with the end users media player. 

The media player is the software that sits on the end users computer that gives them the ability to receive and play the streaming media file.  For example, if the media being streamed is using the Real format, then the end user must have a player that will play this format.  The most popular players are The Real RealPlayer, Microsoft Media Player or Apple QuickTime Player.  In the past Real, Microsoft, and Apple would only encode and send the streaming information in their own format.  Fortunately, this has recently changed allowing greater compatibility.  RealNetworks RealServer 8 can now deliver QuickTime files to QuickTime Players as well as Real’s own proprietary platform.  For simplicity, this paper will only discuss PC based players and the two most popular are the Real and Microsoft players.

According to RealNetworks “88% of Internet Web Sites with Streaming Media use RealAudio and or RealVideo.”   In order for users to access these streams, a Real Player must be downloaded and installed on their workstation.  Microsoft, on the other hand, is packaging their media player with many of their other products and comes as a standard accessory on most of their operating systems.  Both Real and Microsoft offer the players for free to the end user so it is a mute point to base a software platform decision on what the end user has for a player but it still should be a consideration

The two most important factors to consider when purchasing streaming software are price and features but the deciding factor should be how the software will fit the application.  If it comes down to price being the deciding factor then Microsoft has an advantage with their Windows Media products.  The Windows Media products are made up of Windows Media Content Creation Tools for encoding, Windows Media Content Editing Tools for managing media files, and Windows Media Services for the streaming server.  The cost difference between Microsoft and Real is based on the number of simultaneous users that can access the streaming information.  Microsoft Windows Media Services does not limit the number of simultaneous users that can access the streaming information while Real puts limits on simultaneous users.

Real offers three server software solutions based on the number of users that can access the streaming information simultaneously.  These include the RealServer Plus, Standard Professional Solution, and Professional Broadcasting Solution. The basic difference between the three Real solutions is the price and number of users who can simultaneously access the streaming media.  With 60 or less simultaneous users RealServer Plus is less than $3,000.00.  To have l00 or less simultaneous users the Standard Professional Solution is a little over $8,000.00 and to have 400 or less simultaneous users the price for the Professional Broadcasting Solution is approximately $50,000.00.  For most applications, the <60 or <100 simultaneous users are acceptable.  As with Microsoft’s Windows Media Products, Real also offers RealProducer Plus encoding software, and RealPresenter content authoring software.  Depending on which Real server software solution is purchased RealProducer and or Real Presenter may be included.

Besides cost, Real and Microsoft have performance differences also.  These differences need to be looked at closely because one solution may be better than the other.  This is where technical advisers need to get involved to determine what requirements are necessary.  It is recommended to contact both Real and Microsoft to see which solution will best fit the streaming application.

Once it has been decided whether Real or Microsoft is the best streaming solution for a particular application then the next factor that needs to be discussed is whether or not the facility’s backbone can handle media streaming.  If the backbone in place cannot handle the steaming then a facility may choose to contract with an ISP (internet service provider) to provide the necessary bandwidth.  Bandwidth is the amount of data that can be transmitted in a specified time and is limited by the type of connection that the facility uses to access the Internet.  Typical connections include fiber, ISDN, T1, T3, DSL, or standard phone lines.  When deciding on the streaming server software, the amount of bandwidth that will be required to reach multiple end users needs to be considered.  The streaming software manufacturer can help figure out the type of connection that will be required for the particular application.  If the bandwidth available will not accommodate the amount of users accessing the media then an ISP can provide the necessary backbone.  For example, if the streaming server does not have an Internet connection with enough bandwidth to handle many simultaneous users, then “renting” the backbone from an ISP is an option.  When this is the case, the streaming media is stored on the ISP’s streaming server.  As users access these files, their computer will be routed to the ISP’s server to receive the stream.

It doesn’t take much to understand the process of streaming media.  The three basic steps include encoding, storing the media on the streaming server, and streaming the media over the Internet as users access it.  It also doesn’t take much to know what components are required to implement media streaming.  They include the encoding station, encoding software, streaming server, streaming server software, and required backbone.  The most difficult aspect of the media streaming process is figuring out how to best achieve the desired results of the application.  With a little research and knowing where to get answers, a successful system can easily be implemented.


Microsoft Corporation. Introducing Windows Media, Windows Media Components, Windows Media Technologies 7, Windows Media Encoder 7, Windows Media Format 7, Features Comparison: Windows Media Technologies vs. Real G2 – Downloaded 6/18/00.

Optibase, Ltd.  The Media Streaming Handbook.  Copyrighted 1999.

RealNetworks Inc. Streaming Media Buyers Guide, RealSystem 8 Takes Off, RealServer Professional Comparison Matrix, RealServer 8 Preview – Downloaded 6/18/00.

Videography: Streaming Media, A Videography Special Report, January 2000


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