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Live Internet audio and video

StreamWorks media server broadcasts real-time audio and video over the Internet

By George Lawton

October  1995
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Arroyo Grande, CA -- Xing Technologies has released the first commercial version of its StreamWorks media server, which broadcasts audio and video in real-time over the Internet. The servers can be run as stand-alone radio and TV stations on Solaris or SGI computers, or can be integrated into existing Web servers.

StreamWorks makes live real-time broadcast possible with a hardware compressor and decompressor ("codec") that processes transmissions on the fly. These can be streamed from a server for live playback, or archived for playback later. The media streams can be run over 9.6 kilobit per second links for low-quality audio, or up to 1.5 megabits per second for video. The encoders cost $2,500 for audio and $6,500 for audio and video. The server starts at $3,500 and goes up depending on the number of simultaneous streams supported.

Several competing products support playback of audio in real time on SPARC and other computers. Progressive Networks, based in Seattle, developed RealAudio, which enables "AM quality" audio streams to be played at about 9.6 kilobit per second. The DSP Group is rolling out TrueSpeech, which uses a codec that makes speech sound natural, but distorts music.

StreamWorks is able to transmit significantly higher quality music than either of these. Although the low-end transmissions sound no better than RealAudio, the 28.8 kilobit per second transmissions sound like FM. It approaches CD quality with speedier networks, and provides viewable television on T1 (1.5 megabits per second) networks. It can even provide a low-end video channel at ISDN rates.

Using error-correction technology, Xing states, StreamWorks will tolerate some signal (i.e., TCP/IP packet) loss across the Internet. However, the first implementation degrades ungracefully with signal loss, distorting the audio to make it sound as though it's scraped across an electronic washboard. Xing claims its demo contained a bug that prevented a more graceful handling of the problem in a September demonstration.

Xing built an entire business for NBC when the television network created the technology for its digital broadcast financial network.

"Other than satellite, this was the first broadcast network of its kind," said Howard Gordon, president of Xing Technologies. "Reuters liked it and began working with it at the beginning of this year. We are looking at how viable the public data network is for this. The basic communications scheme that is used can translate over to the Internet and back to private data networks."


NBC officials say the network is planning a version of its over-the-air broadcast for the Internet, though is vague about when this will be widely available. Half a dozen other television and radio stations are in the process of developing broadcasts using StreamWorks, according to Xing

"With this system, virtually anyone can become an audio or video broadcaster on the World Wide Web," Gordon said. "Radio stations using StreamWorks have already begun to broadcast to an international audience using the Internet, and users will be able to follow local sports teams, political issues, or financial reporting, regardless of where they are located.

"We expect to place over 100 radio stations on the Internet with live and on-demand broadcasting by year end," Gordon said. "We also expect to see corporations deploying information systems, training and marketing services that take full advantage of audio and video. StreamWorks will enable future Internet audio and video libraries that will give users on-demand access to a vast array of content."

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