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Talkin' Smack: QuickTime, SRS, CineWave & ICE

The juicy bits from an otherwise dry Streaming Media West By Dave Nagel
So guess where I went last week. Go on, guess. Give up? It was Streaming Media West out in Long Beach, home of my alma mater and some of the best bars in California.

Now, I already know what you're thinking: "Dave, what in the name of the Great Bejeezus Above were you doing at Streaming Media West? Isn't that one of those annoying conventions where the only thing people talk about is how their revolutionary end to end solutions synergize with my market space paradigm?"

Well, yes, it is. And, frankly, I was going to skip out on it this year, based on lessons learned at the last Internet World I attended. You know, I don't like dealing with "solution" providers. They're all so very lame. The only thing interesting in streaming media happens on the front end, and the rest is just junk for suckers. Unfortunately, it's the merchants of junk who dominate these kinds of shows.

But then Apple called up and invited me to meet with some of the QuickTime folk, and I couldn't pass it up. First, I've screwed up too many meetings with Apple in the past, and I didn't want to do it again lest they start thinking me a flake. And second, Apple's QuickTime P.R. person gave me a tantalizing teaser about QuickTime and MPEG 4. How could I pass it up?

So I resolved to go, but I also resolved not to make meetings with anyone I didn't really want to see. This was difficult, since, when I registered as press, I was immediately barraged with calls and e-mails from just the kinds of companies I didn't want to deal with. In the end, I managed to weasel out of every meeting except four: the four I wanted to see. The result was that I spent my show time with nary a "synergy" or "paradigm" to be heard.

Apple 'n' me
First came Apple. While I didn't get all the goods on MPEG 4 as I had hoped, I did get a little juicy piece of information, namely that the Sorenson 3 CODEC is coming to QuickTime in just "two or three weeks," according to Frank Casanova, the director of QuickTime product marketing. It will be a free option. There might also be a couple bug fixes for QuickTime at the same time, according to Rhonda Stratton, the senior product line manager for QuickTime. We'll see.

So what's up with MPEG 4? Well, as you know, Apple is very closely tied in with MPEG and particularly MPEG 4. Seems the issue now is just finalizing some specs to make it a truly open standard. And it doesn't seem too far off, as I got to see a build of QuickTime 5 with MPEG 4, complete with support for playback and export. Look for more on MPEG 4 sometime around October.

Casanova, incidentally, was also the product manager for the Mac IIfx, to this day the single greatest computer ever manufactured. As we reminisced about this engineering marvel, I suggested bringing it back in the form of a G5fxˇthe ultracomputer among supercomputers˘. While the suggestion met with the kind of laughter that suggests ridicule rather than shared enthusiasm, I nevertheless will go on believing it will happen. We'll see.

More info: http://www.apple.com/quicktime.

Low bandwidth, high-quality audio
Next on the tour came an unexpected find. I met with some folks from a spinoff of SRS Labs (the audio company) called SRSWOWcast. They're a separate company from SRS, but they get the rights to license SRS Labs' technologies for the Web. They had two technologies they were showing off. First was a piece of software for Windows (unfortunately) that does all kinds of effects with audio to produce high-quality sound at low bandwidths, including the ability to break down 5.1 audio into stereo while retaining an awfully good approximation of surround. It also can just pump up audio quality, clean up and add bass, make speech more intelligible, etc.

Now, normally, because this is Windows software, I'd yawn and walk away. But they also had a piece of prototype hardware that's platform-independent. It does everything the software does, but it does it on the fly with four switches and three knobs. The thing is awesome. No client software required other than QuickTime or whatever other audio source a listener chooses to use. It'll even work in conjunction with video. Slick.

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