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The Short Attention Span Guide to Media Streaming on the Cheap

By Gary S. Stager

1)   Get some media

Film something, record something, create an animation, download an audio or video file, etc...

2)   Digitize it

Use an analog to digital device to import video, a microphone for audio or a patch-cable from an external stereo. You can also copy a CD file to your hard drive or download a file from the web.

Save the data on the hard drive of your computer in a standard format, ie...WAV or .AIFF for audio and .MOV or .AVI for video. Save in the highest quality format you can afford (in time and disk space). We are going to reduce the quality by compressing the file so this is clearly an example of "garbage in - incomprehensible garbage out."

Be sure to save with the proper extension. I know what you're thinking. Isn't this the 21st century, do Windows users really still need file extensions?

3)   Compress the file and export it in either QuickTime or RealMedia format.

iMovie does a nice job of exporting movie files ready for http streaming on the web. It does so by default. If you use the Export-Expert mode for some reason, be sure that the checkbox for prepare for Internet streaming is checked. While you can have QuickTime movies without pictures, RealAudio is the more common way of streaming audio.

You can also use the terrific Cleaner 6 software to compress and export Real or QuickTime files. The quality is terrific, you can batch process clips AND the software costs several hundred dollars.

Regardless of whether you use QuickTime or Real as your destination format you will need to determine the quality of the file you which to creare. Audio can be compressed like crazy. Video has greater aesthetic limitations. You probably wish to prepare your media for the most common slowest connections your audience will be using to access your masterpiece.

If you want to stream video or audio files in the RealMedia format you will need to download the free Real Producer Basic software from Boot the software, follow instructions and your nice small smooshed media files will be export with extensions .ra or .rm. Be sure to specify that you wish to create a single-stream file, the cheapo version.

4)   Put the files somewhere

If you export in QuickTime format, upload your file to a standard web server.

If you export in Real format, upload the compressed file to a standard web server.

5)   What the heck is a metafile?

Here's the tricky part if you are publishing a RealVideo or RealAudio file. When your browser points to a file with an extension it doesn't recognize, it automatically tries to download it. We don't want to download the file. We want to play it with the RealPlayer plug-in and application. (Be sure you have downloaded and installed the RealPlayer Basic and QuickTime plug-ins and files on your computer)

The browser does not like .ra and .rm files so we have to trick it into welcoming their data onto the screen. We do this by creating a metafile, ending with the extension .ram.

A metafile is simply a file containing the link to the original media file and is saved with the extension .ram. When the browser hits the .ram file it goes and gets the file listed in the metafile and tries to play it

6)   Creating a metafile

For those of you already nodding off, don't worry. There's not too much farther to go.

You can create a metafile using a basic text editor or word processor. Notepad and SimpleText will do the job quite nicely. The metafile will only contain one line of text. That text is the path to the original media file you compressed.

In other words, the text looks something like this:

Now save this file with the name workshopvideo.ram

You now need to upload the new metafile and the original media file into the same server directory (you don't have to be in the same directory, but it makes things easier for beginners).

7)   Link to the media file

Put a link in a web page (you can make a web page, can't you?) to either the QuickTime file you uploaded to a web server or the Real metafile you uploaded.

8)   Test the link

Point your browser to the web page, click on the link and see if your audio or video plays. If it doesn't, check the names of the links.

9)   Tell the world about your web page and let them enjoy your new streaming media!

10) The End!

© 2001 Gary S. Stager

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