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Playing Digital Catch Up…
by Jon Leland
Originally published in Videography Magazine, March 2001

One of my favorite statements made in a past iVideography Video Web column goes something like this, “It’s tough to keep perspective with things changing so fast, and it’s even tougher to keep a perspective on how fast things are changing.”

But rather than offering a mile-high perspective, I’d like to use this month’s column to play an innovative form of digital catch up. I’ve noticed as I track the video Web, the streaming media industry and all things interactive video, there are a number of chunks of useful information and personal perspectives that might be of value to a large number of you. This applies especially to those of you who are either video professionals spreading your wings in this new medium or who are considering diving in.

Given that I’ve always been a fan of self-referential humor, I decided to take this opportunity to interview myself. What follows is an imaginary FAQ (a set of Frequently Asked Questions and answers) that illuminate everything from my lastest big picture analysis of streaming solutions to tips and tools that hopefully you will find useful.

Q: What’s the most important new technology in streaming media?
A: Fundamentally, I still see Real Networks as the streaming leader, not only in terms of popularity, but especially in terms of technology. It’s latest server release, RealSystem iQ, not only sets a new standard for streaming quality, but it also does a solid job of incorporating Macromedia Flash content and supports playback of QuickTime media as well. Among other new features, Real has also added a Proxy server which gives corporate video folks more control over their streaming media networks.

Q: What about QuickTime?
While I have not been impressed with the performance of streaming QuickTime, I think that downloaded QuickTime using the FastStart feature to play while downloading is an important and easily accessible alternative to streaming. (See my April, 1999 column “Downloading Lives!”) One of my favorite web sites, AdCritic uses only QuickTime to show all of the TV commercials that it offers. I also think that for integrated multimedia QuickTime has an edge because of the flexibility of its layers vs. Real’s use of the SMIL programming language to create layouts.

(Note: Next month’s iVideography Video Web column will focus on Flash and combinations of video and Flash.)

As far as compression is concerned, the professional standard is Media 100’s Cleaner 5.  

Q: And Windows Media?
Well, I don’t want to pretend to be unbiased. Given Microsoft’s virtual systems software monopoly, I can’t say that I’d like to see them rule the streaming world as well. I think that they’re streaming solution is especially viable in corporate environments where NT servers predominate.

Q: What about the tools to put all of these various forms of streaming media and Web media online? Last year at NAB, virtually every company making any form of post production tool said that they did “streaming.” What do you recommend?
That’s an awfully broad question, but you’re right, there’s a lot of confusion about what streaming is and how best to approach it. There are also, of course, a wide variety of types of professional systems to do both non-linear editing and compression.

As far as compression is concerned, the professional standard is Media 100’s Cleaner 5. In fact, many of the systems that now claim to do streaming are simply incorporating export modules utilizing a version of Cleaner Lite. For example, Cleaner Lite versions have been licensed to Adobe for Premiere 6 as well as to Media 100’s former arch competitor, Avid. And there are many more.

At the lower end of the marketing, I think we’re seeing a coming of age of the “project studio,” a cost effective level of post production that Videography has focused on in the past. Examples of this new generation of NLE software using the latest fast PC’s and extremely inexpensive hard drives with scores of gigabytes of storage (along with IEEE 1394/Firewire) includes Premiere 6 (which I review elsewhere in this issue), Apple’s Final Cut Pro and Media 100’s CineStream 3 (formerly Edit DV).

And now, with the addition of a single add-in board for under $1000 you can use these amazingly low cost systems to do realtime editing. For example, at MacWorld, I was impressed with the offerings from Matrox, — the RT 2000, a Windows solution using Premiere 6, and Matrox RTMac, which adds realtime effects to Final Cut Pro. An added benefit for the RTMac is that this board gives G4 Macs the ability to add a second monitor for a double of the size of your precious screen real estate.

Also, some of the larger web site hosting companies offer low budget packages that include low volume streaming servers.  

And there’s no reason to allow the fact that many of these sytems are based on DV codecs to cramp your style because now inexpensive analog to digital converter boxes are also readily available. For example, in future issues, I’ll be reporting on the new Dazzle Hollywood-DV Bridge, SRP $299.).

Q: What’s the best way to get my streaming media online? There seem to be dozens of companies now who say that their streaming hosting solution is the way to go. Can you offer me any guidance there?
Larger volume providers seem to start at $500/month, but that’s more than most independent producers want to spend for a service that is also more than they may need. As I mentioned above, QuickTime (although it offers a streaming option) offers a downloadable form that is quite viable. Also, some of the larger web site hosting companies offer low budget packages that include low volume streaming servers. For example, I use and resell which offers a $40/month package which includes a 10-stream RealMedia server. You can see this at work at the new site that my company, ComBridges, has recently launched for Golden Gate University School of Law. Please visit for the link.

Among the larger providers, the most impressive benchmark that I’ve seen lately was a December review in NetworkWorldFusion. This technical publication apparently ran extensive tests and noted markedly better streaming performance from and Yahoo Broadcast (formerly as compared to iBeam and Digital Island who were the only others included in these tests.

Q: Have you got any other tips or tricks that you’d like to share?
Well, at the moment, my favorite software tool for creating web site and streaming video graphics, especially buttons and text, is Alien Skin’s Photoshop plug-in Eye Candy 4000 (SRP $169). This major upgrade includes a much more intuitive and familiar looking interface, the ability to do multiple effects within the preview window, five new filters, new and more flexible Bevel and Color Gradient editors and unlimited "undo." I’ve found these filters to be extremely useful while also being powerful and creativity enhancing.

One trick that I’d like to learn is mastery over the vector animations and other amazing digital effects that are built into Synthetik’s Studio Artist (SRP $329., Mac only). For an overview of this breakthrough product, please read the Studio Artist components of my original review, “Painting & Animating a New Paradigm: Photoshop 5.5 & Studio Artist.” This video graphic synthesizer has now been upgraded to version 1.5, and it’s even more jaw-dropping impressive including enhanced animation tools that can, of course, be applied to your video Web productions. If you want some digital fun, download the free demo version and try the tutorial. If you don’t say “Wow!” at least three times, I’ll eat my mouse pad.

Meanwhile, keep those emails of encouragement coming, and don’t forget to stay tuned.

Jon welcomes feedback and suggestions via e-mail at [email protected]


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