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The Medium
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is the most backward aspect of streaming media today, and possibly the main reason that digital media have not yet reached critical mass in user acceptance.
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Figure 2.5 Streaming media production workflow.
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Streaming Encode
Platform n Author SMIL
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Formated for all delivery formats
This book, will examine only streaming digital media. A revolution driven by Moore s law* has taken place in the capacity of cheap receivers to render complex multimedia presentations in real time. The
*In 1965, Gordon Moore, one of the founders of microprocessor manufacturer intel, predicted that the number of transistors that could be placed on a silicon chip would double every eighteen months, thereby giving the consumer geometrically increasing computing power, for the same money. Moore's law has held for over three decades so far. It may hold for another two decades. See http://www.intel.com/research/silicon/mooreslaw.htm.
The Medium
combination of cheap, powerful computing machinery, the invention of new digital media types, and the existence of broadband networks has made possible a new kind of medium superior to any that went before. Because it can both stream and be stored economically, it is a flexible medium suitable for many new applications. Many of these unique applications will be enumerated in this chapter, by way of illustration. In addition, because the distribution networks that can deliver streaming digital media include the broadband Internet, the power structures of existing media empires are under threat. These are sociologically and economically significant characteristics of the streaming medium. So, streaming media refers to the near-instantaneous delivery of various kinds of digital media, carried to the consumer via a multitude of distribution paths and received on a variety of rendering devices (by rendering, we mean machines that are capable of converting digital media data into something you can see, hear, experience, etc.). As new digital media types, new distribution infrastructure, and new receivers are designed and deployed, streaming media will remain a moving target, changing identity as technology advances. For this reason, the treatment of streaming media in this book will concentrate not only on existing embodiments, but also on those that might happen in the near future. We ll stick to the fundamental characteristics of the medium, rather than debate which current system will prevail. The following sections in this chapter will define streaming media by denoting some characteristics and applications. By describing what the media will be like, we ll answer the question what is streaming media
A New Distribution Channel
The best way to think about streaming is as a new way of delivering digital media to an audience. Even though digital television, in fact, streams digital media to a receiver, it is merely aping the characteristics of the analog channel it replaces. A streaming channel can be much more flexible. It can be both a broadcast infrastructure, in competition with traditional broadcast channels, as well as an extension to the Internet, with added media types, interactivity, and speed. There are a bewildering number of digital media types. The total of all the standards bodies, proprietary and open, that want to define digital media types for home delivery, including those that want to add interactivity, numbers well over a dozen. Even though many of these standards for media types offer approximately the same end-user expe-
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rience, they require their own authoring processes and often tie themselves to particular distribution standards. There are overlaps in what many of the standards can do and a great deal of disunity, at present. The different delivery methods for streaming media also number well over a dozen and some media types can be delivered via multiple distribution channels, whereas others cannot. For example, the video payload of digital television, compressed according to the rules of the Motion Picture Experts Group (MPEG) can be sent through the airwaves directly to a set-top box on a television as a Digital Video Broadcast (DVB) bit stream. However, that same video payload can be wrapped in TCP/IP packets and delivered to the same set-top box, via a cable modem, using Hyper Text Transport Protocol (HTTP). In fact, you could even wrap the video payload, wrapped in TCP/IP packets as the IP payload of a satellite DVB stream, so that the set-top box would receive a DVB stream that contained Internet packets, laden with MPEG compressed video! At the bottom of the heap, it s just data representing moving images. How it gets to you is a mish-mash of complexity and competing standards. Finally, streaming media is presented to the end-user by a variety of appliances. We ve already mentioned the set-top box, but we must also mention PCs (Personal Computers) of various flavors (Windows, Linux and Macintosh, for example) and DVD players. Add to that list game consoles (Sony Playstation, Nintendo, and Microsoft Xbox, for example), wireless handsets and Web tablets. Many of these appliances receive their media streams and render them in particular, often-proprietary ways, using only one delivery method, whereas others can receive streaming media from multiple carriers. It follows, then, that not all receivers can render all possible digital media types. Once again, the array of possible combinations is bewildering. With streaming digital media, it is the end-user who experiences the largest amount of complexity and confusion, with the possible permutations and combinations of program, media type, delivery channel, delivery protocol, and receiver left to his or her choice. How does granny make sense of all this The flip side of complexity is flexibility. The ways in which streaming media can add flexibility are illustrated by comparing and contrasting the characteristics of the most flexible streaming channel compared to, say, television. A good way to begin to imagine the most flexible streaming delivery method possible is to think of the World Wide Web, but with high-quality video and sound, as shown in Figure 2.6.
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