By mike
21 December 2011

Infrastructure is to information as a bottle is to wine: the technology is the packaging that allows the information to be delivered to end consumers.[i]
Client/server computing technology provides the platform upon which Web Radio is built, where a client, such as one of the many types of media players resident on a user computer, connects to a media server via an Internet connection.  More specifically, it is a streaming server that is capable of taking the audio from either a static pre-processed file or a continuous live feed (such as an ongoing Internet “radio” station, and sending the audio over the Internet connection to the user’s media player. [ii]
At the heart of the system is the streaming server, which as is common in the client/server model, provides the requested service to the client.  The requested service in this case, is a real-time audio stream that constitutes the Webcast.
Many companies are providing the streaming servers necessary for Webcasting.  In order to develop an understanding and blueprint for developing a Webcast, we will explore several of the options available for the server piece of the Webcast platform.
While the server is the interface to the user or listener in the case of an Internet Radio Webcast, it receives a feed from an authoring computer that digitizes, encodes, and delivers the content (in a variety of streaming formats) to the streaming server for delivery to the audience. [iii]  Again, there are many software options available, depending on the streaming format selected, and we will examine several of the more popular options available.
The client in this model is the piece of software resident on the end user/listener’s PC, whether it is RealPlayer, Windows MediaPlayer, WINamp, QuickTime, FLASH, or any of the many players available.  Regardless of the format used, the media player interrogates the server based on the selection choices of the user and initiates the delivery of the stream to the user.  Compatibility with the media players that have the highest popularity, or are resident on the largest number of computers is important to the webcaster, and is a factor in the choice of streaming server and format.
Often, players are compatible with a proprietary standard such as RealPlayer, as well as the open standards format of MP3.  An example of the desire to be compatible with a popular media player is the use of FLASH as a media player.  Although not offered as a streaming player, the fact that the FLASH player is resident on 98% of Internet connected computers makes it a compelling option for webcasters to consider as a client device for their service.
A webcaster needs to consider which technologies will offer the best options for high quality audio over various bit rates, will provide for the maximum number of potential listeners to their streams, and will offer economical options for both the webcaster and the listener.  The balance of this section explores these options in the three key areas of Streaming Server, Media Player, and Authoring/Encoding.
A great video presentation that demonstrates the process of establishing a Webcast beginning from the client side of the equation is available at: http://www.fezguys.com/.  Select the Dec 2002 appearance on Tech TV and you will see an archive of an appearance by authors Luini and Whitman of Streaming Audio: The FezGuys’ Guide, one of the resources used to support the writing of this thesis.  The video takes you through the establishment of a Webcast using the technology of the WINamp media player and SHOUTcast server, but provides a greatly simplified overview of the entire process of Webcasting.
>> The FEZGUYS link is still valid, so be sure to spend some time with them, they rock!  The Streaming Guide book is great, and I will spend some more time with that in upcoming posts I am sure. <<
>> The biggest change from 2004 in the Media Player may be the proliferation of players available, although the ones I mentioned back then still appear in some version.  I explored several of the more popular models in 2004 in greaterdetail within the chapter as I mentioned above, so I will not go into great detail here about the media player.  I will post this link from CNET, which covers an extremely large number of players and provides this brief definition as well:
“The Digital Media Players directory consists of software programs designed to play various digital audio file formats. Many of the programs also play digital video files, and karaoke software removes vocals from songs to let users sing along. Notable titles include Windows Media Player, Foobar 2000, and Winamp.”
Over 800 links for download are available on this site currently.  Many are free and over 100 are “pay to play” <<

[i] Shapiro, Carl. Varian, Hal R..  Information Rules, A Strategic Guide to the Network Economy. Boston, MA.  Harvard Business School Press, 1999.
[ii] Luini, Jon R. Whitman, Allen E.  Streaming Audio: The FezGuys’ Guide.  1st ed. Indianapolis, IN: New Riders Publishing, 2002.
[iii] Luini, Jon R. Whitman, Allen E.  Streaming Audio: The FezGuys’ Guide.  1st ed. Indianapolis, IN: New Riders Publishing, 2002. P.12

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