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Industry-leading real-time streaming audio/video tools

By ServerWatch Staff (Send Email)
Posted Jun 5, 2002


The RealServer G2 technology used by RealNetworks in its industry-leading solutions is based on a simple formula: compress data as much as possible, take advantage of ever-faster connections to the Internet to push the data from server to client faster, and use streaming technology to deliver the data to the user in a way that allows both audio and video to be sent without significant degradation in quality.

That formula hits its peak with RealServer G2, which offers audio and video quality far superior to previous releases. The latest release gets its name from the G2 music codec introduced by RealNetworks for the most advanced audio streaming technology ever. The official release of RealPlayer G2 also supports the newly announced W3C standard Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language (SMIL), which allows for the layout and synchronization of multiple data types (including the new multistream data types RealPix, RealText and RealFlash, all of which were co-developed with Macromedia) and offers a broadband multimedia experience even over low-bandwidth connections. That formula hits its peak with RealServer G2, which offers audio and video quality far superior to previous releases.

Also supported in the G2 release is RTSP (Real Time Streaming Protocol), a protocol positioned as the standard client/server protocol for streaming audio. RealServer natively supports other Web-oriented multimedia formats as well, including ASF, AVI, JPEG, MPEG, VIV and WAV. Additional new features include FRU (frame rate upsampling) technology for broadcast quality video at up to 30 frames per second, stereo and near-CD audio quality capabilities, load balancing between multiple servers, multicast IP capabilities, and scalable multicasting capabilities.

RealServer G2 can be broken down into three components: RealPlayer/RealPlayer Plus for playing the content (the standard version is freeware and the Plus release offers advanced capabilities for $29.99), RealProducer for encoding and organizing the content, and RealServer for serving the data.

New in RealPlayer G2 and RealPlayer Plus G2 is the ability to search via the Excite search engine for RealAudio and RealVideo clips. Additionally, RealPlayer G2 now supports iQfx from QSound Labs, providing access to digital 3D sound. According to RealNetworks, RealPlayer (including G2 and earlier versions) now has more than 38 million registered users.

Additional features that have recently been implemented in RealPlayer G2 include bandwidth negotiation (for customizing audio quality to connection speed), multicasting support, pseudo-streaming for small audio files, multimedia synchronization, advanced plug-in capabilities, an AutoUpdate feature that automatically downloads the latest RealPlayer components for users, and Java integration capabilities.

With RealProducer, RealProducer Plus, and the new RealProducer G2 Authoring Kit you can use wizards to create Web pages with embedded streaming media and have the client simultaneously upload the proper files to the correct RealServer G2 directory or to a page hosted by an ISP. (Many ISPs have implemented RealNetwork technology and make the server available to their customers.)

RealServer and RealPlayer support the RealVideo G2 and RealAudio G2 formats. In turn, the RealVideo G2 supports Intel's Streaming Web Video technology, which provides automatic multi-rate streaming video content. RealAudio G2 also offers near-quality sound over connections as slow as 28.8 Kbps. New in both products is SureStream, a transport technology that delivers reliable and continuous streaming data under less-than-optimal network conditions at all connection rates.

The RealServer runs on any number of operating systems (including Windows NT and various UNIX platforms) and features Web-based administration and monitoring capabilities, which are extensible both via HTML and through a server-side API. For marketing reasons, RealServer G2 has been broken down into seven solutions:

7 Internet Solution - the most full-featured implementation and the one used most often on the Internet. You can download a free evaluation of the Internet Solution from http://proforma.real.com/mario/eval/download.html.

7 Commerce Solution - includes password protection, payment schemes and tracking of user demographics. In an Internet situation, the Commerce Solution can be used to provide pay-for-view events and to sell premium content protected by a password-authentication system. In a corporate intranet situation, the Commerce Solution can be used to provide secure training tutorials and sales demos.

7 Enterprise Solution - the most advanced RealServer implementation possible, including everything found in the Internet and Commerce solutions as well as advanced capabilities like in-depth system administration and reporting tools, user authentication, a Firewall Proxy Kit, the RealServer G2 SDK and a Java performance monitor.

7 Basic Server Plus G2 - a $685 solution that includes RealProducer and the ability to host up to 40 simultaneous sessions. It does not, however, include any support (which, unless you're very familiar with creating content or setting up an audio server, you'll probably need).

7 Basic Server G2 - a freeware solution that supports up to 25 sessions of live and on-demand RealAudio, RealVideo, RealText, and RealPix broadcasts. The Basic Server also does not include any support.

7 Classroom Solution - intended for use in educational situations.

7 Hosting Solution - designed for ISPs that want to offer RealServer technology to their customers.

There are different operating systems supported in the various solutions, but on the most popular level -- the Internet solution -- OSes supported currently include SCO OpenServer 5.0.4 and Unixware 7, Windows NT Server 3.51 or 4.0, Linux 2.0.30 with ELF support, FreeBSD version 2.2.x, Solaris 2.5 or better, SGI Irix 5.3 or 6.2, HP-UX 10.01, Digital Unix 4.0, or IBM AIX 4.0 or better.

You'll also need a Web site and a registered domain, as well as a Web server that supports configurable MIME types. RealServer has been tested with the following Web servers: Apache 1.1.1, CERN HTTPD version 3.0, EMWAC HTTPS version 0.96, HTTPD4 Mac, Mac HTTP, Microsoft Internet Information Server, NCSA HTTPD versions 1.3 or 1.4, Netscape Netsite and Netscape Enterprise Server, O'Reilly WebSite, Spinner version 1.0b12 through 1.0b15, and Webstar and Webstar PS. Finally, you'll need 2MB of hard-disk space and approximately 3MB of available RAM plus a maximum of 20KB of RAM for each simultaneous RealAudio stream served and a maximum of 60KB for each simultaneous RealVideo stream server.

RealNetworks also offers a few solutions for implementing streaming audio without an initial major financial commitment. Through the Real Broadcast Network (RBN), potential customers can have RBN configure audio, video or other media files and deliver them off of the customers' Web site for a specified period of time without the need for making the financial commitment to streaming media. At the end of the trial period, you can either make the necessary commitment to streaming media or decide that it doesn't fit your needs.

RealNetworks pioneered the development and usage of streaming audio and video. Unlike most pioneers in the computer industry, however, RealNetworks has thrived despite some heavy competition from the likes of Microsoft, thanks to the delivery of ever-better technology and services.

Pros: Outstanding real-time audio/video; server, encoder, and player programs all available
Cons: Clips must be run from a specialized server in order to utilize real-time streaming technology
New in 5.0: Streaming "RealFlash" animation support, improved audio/video, publishing tools

New in G2: Integrates Intel's new Web Streaming Video technology (for smoother Web video and enhanced playback performance), FRU (frame rate upsampling) technology for broadcast quality video at up to 30 frames per second, stereo and near-CD audio quality capabilities, SureStream support, SmartStream technology, AutoUpdate feature, Web-based administration for network and server management, scalable multicasting capabilities, dramatic enhancements to audio and video quality, audio and video search add-in client from Excite and Digital 3D Audio add-in from QSound Labs; Release Notes

New in G2 6.1 Beta: This 6.1 release introduces two new applications built on the RealServer G2 architecture as plug-ins to the RealServer G2: Advertising Application and ISP Hosting. The Advertising Application integrates an existing Web advertising system with streaming media. ISP Hosting allows you to create a streaming-media hosting business and maintain control of the customers capabilities. Other additions include:

  • SureStream Simulated live transmission
  • SureStream Archiving
  • Multi-processor support improvements
  • TCP live encoder connection
  • New standards-based IP Multicast support
  • Performance and stability improvements.
Release Notes
Upgrade Meter: 4

New in 7.0: Has Intel Streaming Web Video Technology, Live SureStream, and a customizable HTML-based administrative interface; support 25 to 60 sessions of live and on-demand RealAudio, RealVideo, RealText, and RealPix broadcasts; Release Notes
Upgrade Meter: 5

New in 7.0 Update 2: Support for the new RealVideo 8; can support 60 simultaneous sessions of live or on-demand streaming; near-CD quality Internet audio; license to resell streams (for hosting providers); 1 or 2 years of upgrades and tech support available; Release Notes
Upgrade Meter: 3

New in 8.0: Supports RealVideo 8 with VHS quality for broadband viewers and RealAudio 8 with CD quality at 64 Kbps; can handle up to 60 simultaneous sessions of live or on-demand streaming; broad support for 45 rich media types; license to resell streams (for hosting providers); one or two years of upgrades and tech support are available; Release Notes
Upgrade Meter: 3

Version Reviewed: G2 6.1 Beta
Reviewed by: Kevin Reichard
Last Updated: 12/21/00
Date of Original Review: 11/25/98

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