Streaming Video: Beyond Our Grasp?
Copyright 2001-2002 Miguel Guhlin
Acknowledgements: Special thanks to Gregg Carlson for his research in this area, to Julie Martin from Apple Computer for scheduling a presentation on Quicktime and allowing Gregg and I to use a video editing station.

"Gregg," I asked my new videographer, "what do you know about streaming video?" As he rattled off his reply, I realized how little I actually knew about putting video clips on the web. Feeling like an inept movie producer who hadn't quite finished his homework at movie making school, I asked him to do the research on streaming video. While Gregg did his research, I posted information requests on multiple lists, including the Texas Educators' Mac Users Group (TEMUG@yahoogroups.com) and the famous EDTECH list (http://www.h-net.msu.edu/~edweb) for their feedback.
Even Wesley Fryer, my esteemed fellow columnist, had been secretly experimenting with examples of Quicktime and RealVideo clips. The more I read, the more I became aware that there were actually 3 choices. This article explores the three choices and shares the information that Gregg Carlson (who did the lion’s share of the research) and I gathered.
WHAT IS STREAMING VIDEO?
Streaming videos are longer video clips that can be played over the web. With streaming video or streaming media, a web user does not have to wait to download a large file before seeing the video. The video is sent in a continuous stream and is played as it arrives. In conversations with Julie Martin, Apple Computer, and an Apple System Engineer, I came to understand that you should only stream long video clips--perhaps 30-40 minutes in length.
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"'Streaming' video is unique because playback begins as soon as sufficient content is downloaded into the player's buffer (memory). Streaming video is best for the web, since playback begins sooner and people viewing the content do not have to wait till the entire file downloads before they start to see the video playing back."
Wesley A. Fryer Director of Distance Learning, Webmaster College of Education Texas Tech University http://www.educ.ttu.edu/tla/
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The shorter clips that I had in mind for the Pathways to Advance Virtual Education (PAVE) project, which involved video-taping interviews with teachers earning a Master's degree through Masters Online and Houston Baptist University, could just as well be downloaded off the web and saved to the hard drive before being viewed.
"The video clips," Gregg shared with me, "are shorter videos that can be downloaded completely before playing. These clips also require a player, but they do not require any special software on the server that hosts the clips. As with streaming video, shorter video clips can be either embedded in a web page at any desirable place, or opened in an independent popup window.� While these files are fairly small individually, multiple files might use up a considerable portion of your allotted server space."
For the PAVE Project (http://www.pavenet.org) , we have three servers--a web/FTP server, a Filemaker Pro server, and a WebBoard/Streaming Video server. The video server is useful because it allows a video clip to automatically scale up or down in quality depending on the available bandwidth. What this means is that if there is suddenly high traffic on your site and the amount of bandwidth throughput is reduced, the video will automatically switch to a lower quality. Even though these 3 PAVE servers have lots of room, it's important to know how much space the video clips will take up. With a little research, it was discovered that a 5-minute video clip encoded to play on cable or DSL modem (high quality) will take about 8 MB of space. A 5 minute clip encoded for a 56k modem will take about 1 MB.
THE CHOICES
The more research that was done, the more it became apparent that there were 3 real choices: a) Quicktime; b) Windows Media; and c) Real Server. An old classroom teacher at heart, I was immediately drawn to the fact that Quicktime and Windows Media Encoders and server software were relatively free, while Real Server cost a whopping $2000 (albeit the Real Media encoder known as Real Producer is free)--clearly not my choice of tools or within my budget. However, I did have to purchase Quicktime Pro for $20. Being an essentially cheap person, this bothered me when I was able to download both Windows Media Player v7.1 and the Encoder from the Microsoft web site for free (http://www.microsoft.com/).
Between the first two choices, Quicktime and Windows Media, I was immediately drawn to Windows Media because it made all its tools available for free. I was leaning towards Windows Media until I had the opportunity to see a demonstration of a Macromedia Flash movie with Quicktime elements. Apparently, Macromedia Flash has built-in support for Quicktime movies, making it a simple matter to do sophisticated animations on the web that incorporate Quicktime movies. I tested this out for myself and was amazed.
RealMedia did not seem appealing because even though it boasts many free features (e.g. the fact that RealMedia files can be created directly from video editing programs like Adobe Premiere, or converted from other formats with the free RealProducer), the price tag for what is needed is more expensive. A key feature is the free Real Producer, which according to the Jeffrey L. Jones', the district technology coordinator for Fayette County Public Schools in Lexington, Kentucky, email on the EDTECH List (12/01/2001) allows for the selection of a variety of bit rate offerings, but encoding more than one in a single file requires RealServer. He goes on to say that

There is much to dislike from Real - theirs is perhaps the most heavily ad-burdened Internet media client in existence, and handling video through a default install of RealPlayer can be unpleasant. However, as HTML-page-embedded video files, the client is virtually invisible, and only those controls you specify will be present on the page. Real streams work dependably, and do not require much bandwidth for good quality. In addition, Real (as does Quicktime) allows for event streaming with the video. Events are encoded by RMEvents.exe, which is also included with the free RealProducer.

MISCONCEPTIONS
Ignorant as I was of streaming video and encoders, I quickly found out that both Windows Media and Quicktime Pro do not allow you to edit video clips. This was disappointing for me because I was looking for an easy, all –in-one solution. However, others pointed out that you could use Adobe Premiere on the Windows platform or the superior Final Cut Pro on the Macintosh platform. Once I was able to get past this misconception, I began to appreciate the ease of both Windows Media and Quicktime. Even though I had played with RealPlayer Server Plus, I was continually drawn to the Quicktime and Windows Media.
Another disappointment I had was bandwidth. I knew that bandwidth might be an issue, but I never imagined that 5 video streams could crash a school district's network. However, that's exactly what would have happened if streaming video solutions had been placed on the PAVE server. Not one of the 4 public school districts involved in the PAVE project had the bandwidth to handle normal network traffic and streaming video. The Windows 2000 server we use is accessed by at least 235 teachers, 162 administrators participating in PAVE, not to mention visitors to the site. 5 simultaneous streams would have crashed our district network. School districts are quickly moving to increase their bandwidth in light of streaming video and other technologies—web casting—that can be used for professional development purposes.
MAKING THE CHOICE
Based on the research Gregg did, the experimentation I did at incorporating Quicktime video into Flash movies, working with a fellow author, Wesley Fryer, I came to have a preference for one program over the other. Using the matrix shown, I made my choice. As far as I could tell, Quicktime was the best solution in terms of delivering quality video, as well as offered cross-platform compatibility. While the size of the video clips tended to be slightly bigger than the other encoded video clips, the size could be controlled through the use of other utilities. The next best solution was Windows Media
“However, the end result after evaluating all three is that QuickTime was the method he preferred due to ease of server implementation, support resources, and that sort of thing, especially in a full-blown commercial environment." Larry Rymal, Education Specialist Regional Education Service Center 6
Player. Unfortunately, the main drawback of both is the fact that quality video translates into incredibly large files. For both encoders, the quality is easily controlled at time of video encoding. Both Quicktime and Windows Media Player appear to be evenly matched, however, Windows Media Server software was already loaded on the Windows 2000 Server that would be our streaming video server. I was astonished to find that it came loaded on there for free.
An important question in my mind was, “Will users have to install the player on their computers?” Although the answer was YES, both download and installation for Quicktime and Windows Media were quick and easy.� The Windows Media Encoder (4 megs) is downloadable off the Microsoft web site, as is the Windows Media Player (10 megs).�
THE DIRECTOR
As I sat on my couch at home relaxing at the end of a long week, I saw the little pile of video tapes sitting on top of the television set. “A world without video tapes,” I thought to myself as my two year old knocked them over and methodically pulled them from their cases. “What if I could just click on the video and it would play?” As I fell asleep, I imagined myself as a movie producer, a director and webmaster all rolled into one, sharing video clips of best practices on technology integration. Maybe, if I worked hard enough, it wouldn’t just be a dream, intangible and beyond my grasp. Some day, the bandwidth, the mastery of Flash and dazzle….
Sidebar #3: Comparison Matrix
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Title
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Description

Advantages

Disadvantages
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System Requirements
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Cost
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RealPlayer Server Plus
www.real.com
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RealSystem Server Plus is an “ easy affordable software to get you started streaming media via the Internet or corporate intranet. “
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1. Pseudo-streaming for small audio files
2. Multimedia synchronization, advanced plug-in capabilities
3. AutoUpdate feature that automatically downloads the latest
4. Wizards to create Web pages with embedded streaming media and have the client simultaneously upload the proper files to the correct RealServer G2 directory
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1. Only support under Windows NT 4.0/2000 and various versions of Unix.�
2. Web server that supports configurable MIME types.�
3. Dedicated server needed to utilize real-time streaming technology
4. Lower video quality
5. 60 simultaneous users of your media.
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1. Windows NT Server 3.51 or 4.0,
2. Microsoft Internet Information Server
3. 2MB of hard-disk space
Approximately:
1. 3MB of available RAM
2. 20KB of RAM for each simultaneous RealAudio stream served
3. Maximum of 60KB for each simultaneous RealVideo stream server
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$1,995.00
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QuickTime Darwin Streaming Server
www.quicktime.com
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Streaming Server is server technology, which allows you to send streaming QuickTime data to clients across the Internet using the industry standard RTP and RTSP protocols. It is based on the same code as Apple's QuickTime Streaming Server
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1. Serve up to 1,000 concurrent streaming users
2. Higher video quality
3. Based on open standards.
4. Supports hundreds of file formats
5. Reusable media - create once and deploy in many different situations (web, CD, DVD, word, Director, Flash, etc.)
6. Baseline for the newly adopted MPEG 4 standard
7. You have access to the source code
8. Administration is web based
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1. Performance differences as a result of the platform
2. Each PlaylistBroadcaster* needs dedicated window to run
3. Passwords created using the qtpasswd.exe* utility are not encrypted.
4. New product, limited support and knowledge base. (April ’01)
5. Larger file size
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1. Windows NT/2000 Server or Linux 6.2�� (standard server requirements)
Plus:
At least 64 MB of random-access memory (RAM). If you anticipate heavy traffic on your server,
Recommended:
1. 512 MB of RAM
2. 350 MHz or higher processor
3. 3 Ultra Wide SCSI drives (faster access speed)
4. Ethernet card
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Darwin Streaming Server 3 is free, with no per-stream license fees. QuickTime
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Title
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Description
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Advantages
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Disadvantages
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System Requirements
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Cost
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Microsoft Windows Media Server
www.microsoft.com
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Using the Web server streaming feature of Microsoft� Windows Media™ Server.� Any Web site can stream multimedia content easily.
To stream Windows Media content from a Web server Media metafiles with .wax, .wvx, or .asx file name extensions with a text editor, and then copy the content to your server.
Any end user using Windows Media Player can connect to your site and stream audio and video.
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1. Stream through most firewalls
2. Stream content with Digital Rights Management
3. Indexing
4. Administering and logging
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1. Only support under Windows NT
2. Dedicated server needed
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1. 133 MHz or higher Pentium-compatible
2. 256 megabytes (MB) of RAM recommended minimum
3. 1.0 GB free space on hard-disk
4. CD-ROM or DVD drive
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Free.� Downloadable from the Windows Media Technologies pages of the Microsoft Web site. Windows Media Services is included with Windows 2000 Server
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Terms
PlaylistBroadcaster - The broadcast description file is a text file that specifies how the media should be broadcast, the playlist file, the IP address of the QuickTime Streaming Server, and other information about the broadcast.
Qtpasswd.exe Utility – A utility that allow to create an access file is a text file that contains information about users and groups who are authorized to view media in the folder in which the access file is stored. The folder you use to store streamed media can contain other folders. Each folder can have its own access file. When a user tries to view a media file, QuickTime Streaming Server checks for an access file to see whether the user is authorized to view the media. The server first looks for an access file in the directory where the media file is located. If an access file is not found, it looks up the directory hierarchy. The first access file that's found is used to determine whether a user is authorized to view the media file.