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'Most standard' audio format?
How to deliver audio streams that most people can get easily
CromeYellow




msg:660584
 3:18 pm on Apr 24, 2003 (gmt 0)

Hi there

My first post in this forum, so hello!

I want to create several small voice files that customers can click on from my website and from emails.

Obviously, I would like it if most people were able to simply click, the correct program to launch, and they could therefore hear the audio with no more hassle than that.

I just don't know which format to use, and which playback program is most common.

Can anyone help out? Please assume low level knowledge. :)

Cy

 

txbakers




msg:660585
 5:25 pm on Apr 24, 2003 (gmt 0)

I think it's safe to assume that most people by now have a Real Player or a Windows Media Player.

Both will play wav files and I think au files.

Streaming is a different issue as you need a streaming server in place. I've done this years ago with RM files (real audio) and no one complained about not being able to hear them.

Ankheg




msg:660586
 4:01 am on Apr 25, 2003 (gmt 0)

IMO, Windows media is the way to go, simply because, unfortunately, it's supported by default in all M$ OS's since Win95, IIRC. Very few computers come pre-loaded with RealPlayer, or whatever, and Real has been periodically accused of inserting spyware into it's players. For true cross-compatability I guess a .wav file would be best, but I'm not sure if you can stream them, and they're comparatively large.

I rarely use any sort of streaming media online, and am periodically annoyed that Real keeps seeming to change the specifications of their RealAudio standard, requiring me to download yet another huge file from their not-very-user-friendly site. As a contrast, I can listen to any Windows Media stream with, what else, Windows Media Player, which came with my copy of Win95 way back when...

But that's just me. I can't see why I'd ever put any sort of sound file on one of my sites; I'm not a musician, and for anything else, once the medium's more important than the message, I'm going to just walk away.

CromeYellow




msg:660587
 7:06 am on Apr 25, 2003 (gmt 0)

Thanks folks, so what we seem to be looking at is a streaming format that plays by default with Media Player?

That gives me something to be working on.

Cheers

Cy

jlr1001




msg:660588
 2:37 am on Apr 28, 2003 (gmt 0)

IMO, Windows media is the way to go, simply because, unfortunately, it's supported by default in all M$ OS's

But Real has a longer history of streaming media. So as long as you can save the audio in Real's G2 format then you should be fine.

The problem with non-streaming media (like .WAV files) is the client will have to download the entire file before it can be played. For smaller files this isnt' that bad, but you should assume that some people will be listening over a dial-up connection.

Streaming is a different issue as you need a streaming server in place.

Actually you can stream a real audio file through a standard http server. The only limitation is that you can deliver as many simultaneous streams as you could on a true streaming server, and the listener can't fast forward or rewind as easily.

If you'd like I can easily tell you how to stream a real audio file.

jamesa




msg:660589
 5:40 am on Apr 28, 2003 (gmt 0)

Then there's your Mac users who have QuickTime installed by default (but Windows Media and Real are available)...

Two other options (and also cross-platform) are Flash and MP3. Flash streams any audio file it can import and you can create a nice stop/play button in it or just have it invisible if you want. Regarding MP3, most everyone today has the ability to play MP3's and that can also be streamed very easily.

CromeYellow




msg:660590
 9:15 am on Apr 28, 2003 (gmt 0)

jamesa and jlr1001

Thanks for the tips. If you could tell me a little about how do streaming with real and mp3's, that would be great! :)

Cheers

Cy

jamesa




msg:660591
 9:06 pm on Apr 28, 2003 (gmt 0)

they're both essentially the same. You create the Real or MP3 and upload it somewhere on your server. Then you create a text file that contains just the full URL to that file and upload this as well. With Real the text file should end in a .ram extension, and for MP3 it should end in a .m3u extension. Point all your hrefs to these text files (not the actual audio files). The player just reads the text file and plays the track referenced in the URL. You can have multiple URLs (on different lines) to create a playlist.

Just beware that some webservers may not have their mime types set up for these file extensions. If so, just do a search on Google and you'll find a bunch of info about getting that straigtened out.

MrDolphin




msg:660592
 3:53 pm on Apr 30, 2003 (gmt 0)

I run a radio station site so this is something I have
picked up a little knowledge about:

If you care about dial up users flash is the way to
go for small voice files. IMHO flash is great for this.

I use both WindowMedia (for live streaming)
and RealAudio (archives)

Both work well but to be honest we have more trouble
with the WM side as far as technical issues.
(usually on the server side)

The only drawback to realmedia is some people complain
about all the excess baggage that comes with realplayer
(I tell 'em to do a custom install and just install the player and plugins). Its got some great scripting tools
if your into automating tasks as well..

my $0.02

The Water Mammal

trillianjedi




msg:660593
 4:09 pm on Apr 30, 2003 (gmt 0)

Mr Dolphin,

Or may I be flippant and call you Flipper?

How do you set up a live audio stream? If I setup Windows Media Encoder to "live broadcast" audio on audio.domain.com port 8080, can I reference the URL inside a webpage with an embedded Windows Media Player (can do all that) instead of a filename?

so instead of:-

<parameter=Filename "sound.wma">

I have:-

<parameter=Filename "http://www.audio.domain.com:800">

Thanks,

TJ

MrDolphin




msg:660594
 2:53 am on May 1, 2003 (gmt 0)

I'm not sure you can live stream off a http server, We use
a service to encode the stream and its an MMS server.
(it was cheap and already in place.)

Here's the code I use in a popup window:
<script language="JavaScript">
<!--
if ( navigator.appName == "Netscape" )
{
navigator.plug-ins.refresh();
}
//-->
</script>
<!-- Begin Media Plugin -->
<Embed type="application/x-mplayer2"
pluginspage= "http://www.microsoft.com/windows/windowsmedia/download/"
filename="http://your_URL_here"
src="http://your_URL_here"
Name=MediaPlayer
ShowControls=1
ShowDisplay=0
ShowStatusBar=1
width=300
height=70>
</embed>
<!-- End Media Plugin -->

Hope this helps!
Curious to know if it works on a plain http server as well.
(I was under the impression you needed an MMS server for live streaming)

"Its so nice to have a Porpoise in life!"
-The Water Mammal

littleman




msg:660595
 3:43 am on May 1, 2003 (gmt 0)

Why go proprietary?
If you want truly universal use streaming mp3, or even better Ogg Vorbis [vorbis.com]?
Ogg Vorbis is a completely open,
patent-free, professional audio encoding
and streaming technology with all the
benefits of Open Source.

MrDolphin




msg:660596
 2:04 pm on May 1, 2003 (gmt 0)

My experience is you lose 50 - 75% of your audience
if they have to download, configure, or do anything
beside "click here to listen".

Not to mention the support hassles.

Been there, done that, got the (ripped up and bloodstained) T-shirt to prove it.

The Water Mammal
(No Real Porpoise)

trillianjedi




msg:660597
 2:07 pm on May 1, 2003 (gmt 0)

Mr Dolphin,

Hey, many thanks for the javascript post - I will have a play with that later.

My apologies, this is an MMS server (using Media Encoder).

So hopefully that will work.

Many thanks again,

TJ
(very much a land based mammal)

HughMungus




msg:660598
 6:14 pm on May 3, 2003 (gmt 0)

Interesting question. I just ran into the same question in developing my current project (which I would name but don't want to spam) which sounds similiar (no pun inteded) to what you're doing. I do web audio/video for a living so I have an opinion or two.

I'd have to say that the most STANDARD audio format is MP3 and the reasons should be obvious -- everyone wants to be able to play MP3's, not because they're on websites but because they like playing music. As a result, just about every media player can play MP3's (WM, Real, Winamp, Quicktime, and all the various other ones) and just about every computer user has a player that can play MP3's. It is the most computer/OS/player non-raw agnostic format out there (non-raw meaning that it's compressed and if you want to deliver audio on your website, it should be compressed). This is important because some people simply will not spend time downloading a player and/or downloading the codec you've selected to encode your files with and they will leave your site without ever hearing your audio.

One really important thing to remember about doing web audio/video is that newer is not always better. It's quite frustrating to see website operators leap to the newest format/codec. What happens is that many people hit a link, are prompted to download a new codec or player, decline because they don't want to screw with it or are afraid the new player will mess up their system settings (far too common), and they never hear your audio. If you have audio and video on your website, having it heard/seen is way more important than a real or perceived improvement in quality or functionality.

Regarding other formats:

Flash -- some people don't like flash and will actively uninstall the flash player because of annoying flash ads and such. I know because I've done it before.

Real Player -- you often have to download the player to play it, and the codecs change and have to be updated which requires a download, which some people won't do. Another problem with Real is that if you do send listeners to their site to get the player, they often have to wade through a sales pitch for the Real Player Plus to get to the free Real Player Basic.

Quicktime -- you have to install the player if it's not already installed.

Windows Media Player -- you run into issues with their various codecs and versions. For example, I've read that the ACELP codec works on OS8 but not on OSX. Also, some people have a thing against MS and won't use the WMP at all.

MrDolphin




msg:660599
 4:00 pm on May 15, 2003 (gmt 0)

Hugh,

I'm curious are you using the HTTP server to stream your mp3 content?

I can see using http for small voice files or low traffic sites but this may pose a problem as traffic or file sizes increase and it bogs the server.

We tried it once but the complaints about the stream dropping out and starting/stopping were overwhelming.
This was no wimpy server either and 90mbps connection.

These were voice files encoded @ very low bandwidth
6khz rate, about 3 megs in size.

We went to Real Audio about 3 years ago and I get no
complaints. Site gets 400-600 visitors a day.

HughMungus




msg:660600
 4:48 pm on May 23, 2003 (gmt 0)

Using a standard web server. Scalability does scare me as I'm not serving very many files at once, yet -- when the business gets busier, though, I am worried that this will be a problem. Do you know of any analysis/statistics on this sort of thing (e.g., the impact of HTTP download/play on a web server?). I was thinking that since the files are being served via HTTP that there is no difference between serving an audio file that's 100k and an image file that's 100k. The file downloads and once it downloads once, it's cached and doesn't have to be downloaded again to be played again (unlike a Real file/stream which would go back to the server to get the file again). Is this an incorrect assumption?

Shoot me a mail message if you want and I'll show you what I'm working on.

<quote>
Hugh,
I'm curious are you using the HTTP server to stream your mp3 content?

I can see using http for small voice files or low traffic sites but this may pose a problem as traffic or file sizes increase and it bogs the server.

We tried it once but the complaints about the stream dropping out and starting/stopping were overwhelming.
This was no wimpy server either and 90mbps connection.

These were voice files encoded @ very low bandwidth
6khz rate, about 3 megs in size.

We went to Real Audio about 3 years ago and I get no
complaints. Site gets 400-600 visitors a day.

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