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State of the Art: Is Streaming Dead?

No, but read on anyway By Dave Nagel
I lie to you not. I went out to the Streaming Media West convention in Long Beach last week (against my better judgement, but I'll get to that in a moment). This is one of those shows where practically the only companies in attendance are there to beg for venture capital. You know the kind. (I went on at length about this around last Internet World. Streaming Media West is the same thing.) So, anyway, after I get done at this show, what do you suppose I find on my windshield when I reach the parking lot?

A prospectus.


I lie to you not. Some company hired some guy to go around to all the cars in the Long Beach Convention Center parking lot and place a prospectus on their windshields. As if raising venture capital were like advertising a discount car wash.

What a joke.

But, on the positive side, the Streaming Media West show this season was virtually dead. Why is this a positive thing? It means that all those companies I hate are going out of business. You know the ones I'm talking about?those "end to end solution providers" who want to "synergize my paradigm in [fill in the blank] market space." These are the companies that have posed the biggest problems for anything having to do with the Internet. All their "cyber" this and "revolutionizing" that propaganda has been driving me nuts for years, and it's turned the Internet into one big cliché. So I'm glad to see them go, and I spit on their graves.

So you ask, "Dave, if you hate these people so much, what made you go to this convention and waste your precious time on these Doc Marten's-clad MBAs?"

Look, you and I both know the only thing interesting about the Web happens on the front end, the creative end. And we also know that these types of conventions cater to the exact opposite?the back end, or the butts of the industry, if you will. Nevertheless, with a little bit of digging, we can part through these back ends and find some real golden treasures. (Did that sound like an anatomical pun? I'll stop that now.)

QuickTime, Sorenson 3 and MPEG 4
For example, my first stop wasn't even on the show floor. It was in a meeting room near the exit. And it was with Apple, the folks who made all of this computer graphics stuff possible. They took some time out of their busy schedule to let me in on a couple little secrets. No. 1 is the fact that we will soon (within a couple or three weeks) see the Sorenson 3 CODEC included as a free upgrade in QuickTime 5.

They also showed off a pre-beta version of QuickTime 5 with MPEG 4 support?both playback and export. The quality was a bit rough, but, when it's all finished, you better believe streaming video is going to be a part of every Web designer's responsibilities. Better start boning up on your video editing skills. This stuff is happening soon. Look for more info on QuickTime and MPEG 4 around October.

Cleaner on speed
For those of you who are already in the streaming medium, you will be happy to learn of some news on the compression front. Media 100, the company that bought Media Cleaner Pro (now called simply Cleaner) from Terran Interactive had some happy tidings to report. It seems the company's Cleaner 5 product will soon get ICE acceleration in the form of a new board called Crystal ICE. This isn't terribly new news, but the fact that it's about to go into beta testing is. Those of you who have worked with the previous ICE'd version of Cleaner (Media Cleaner Power Suite) know just how much faster compression can be with a little help from some add-on hardware. The extra bonus? Unlike Media Cleaner Pro 4, Cleaner 5 isn't hindered by the 2 GB file size limit, and, of course, it can encode interactivity into any streaming file.

Now, on the side of things I usually don't cover, Media 100 also signed a deal with Globix to provide hosting services for Cleaner Live, the company's Windows-only live streaming suite. Why do I mention this? It's a pretty decent deal. If you do live streaming with Cleaner 5, you'll now get hosting service starting around $250. For those of you who've done this before, you know that's practically free. What's the catch? There doesn't seem to be one. You pay your $250, you get a test run, you get your stream and you get a live customer service person on the phone with you throughout the Webcast. Not too shabby. Now, if Apple would just release their QuickTime API for Windows, we could get this thing streaming some real media instead of that other stuff from vendors I won't mention.

By the way, there's also a multi-node version of Cleaner Live in the works. It too will be in beta soon. Stay tuned for more.

Ultimate audio
Finally, there was also some good stuff in the way of audio. I know you probably don't think too much about it, but SRSWOWcast has some incredible technology for encoding low-bandwidth audio with a high-bandwidth sound. It's really something you're going to have to hear to believe, so stop by their site and check out some of their demos. (The demos are in Windows Media format, but the technology works on any audio source.) SRSWOWcast introduced both software and hardware for enhancing audio. The software lets you clean up voice, add bass, mess around with 5.1 simulation and do a whole bunch of other stuff that turns really bad audio into really good audio. The hardware does the same thing, but it does it on the fly. Think Internet radio. You play the source through SRSWOWcast's box, tweak some knobs and switches, and you're on your way to full-bodied sound without the download time.

Final thoughts
So I've mentioned here that the streaming media and general Internet conventions seem to be in a serious state of decline. Does this mean that streaming is dead? Nope. In fact, demand for streaming media is at an all-time high. It just means that those annoying middlemen and back-end "solution" providers are going to have to look for another venue for scamming investments.

And so that about wraps it up for this latest (and possibly second to last) Streaming Media West expo. Look for more rants about back-end companies (and possibly some more anatomical puns) after the next Internet World, which happens in mid-July.

Dave Nagel is the producer of Creative Mac and Digital Media Designer; host of several World Wide User Groups, including Synthetik Studio Artist, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe InDesign, Adobe LiveMotion, Creative Mac and Digital Media Designer; and executive producer of the Digital Media Net family of publications. You can reach him at dnagel@digitalmedianet.com.

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