Real-time MPEG streaming audio tool for Win and Power Mac platforms
While RealAudio has long held the pole position for high-quality audio on-demand streaming, a new challenger has recently emerged that gives the current champ a run for its money. Audioactive uses MPEG audio encoding to compress sound bytes down to less than 10% of their original size while still retaining an extremely high level of quality. The result is an impressive real-time audio streaming client that rivals earlier versions of RealAudio and even gives the new commercial RealPlayer Plus a run for its money. And though the best audio quality can only be achieved with an ISDN line or better, even at 28.8 Kbps the sound quality is quite amazing. One of my all-time favorite radio stations, Dallas' KDGE 94.5 (The Edge), is just one of the many stations that currently provides Audioactive content through the Web. Who would have ever thought that listening to a radio station on the Web could sound as good as the real thing -- even with a slow modem connection!
Audioactive requires at minimum a 486/66 for real-time playback, but users will need a 90 MHz Pentium or better in order for the player to be able to decode and play sound files in the background while you work on other projects. At this early stage Audioactive does not have as large a following as RealPlayer, but the content providers that do serve Audioactive files offer extensive selections of music. A full listing of providers is available at http://www.audioactive.com/listen and includes the likes of SuperRadio, the World Radio Network, Wild FM, WCSB, WRCT Pittsburg, The Edge, and the Macintosh.Music scene. Audioactive uses MPEG audio encoding to compress sound bytes down to less than 10% of their original size while still retaining an extremely high level of quality.
As with RealAudio, you can serve Audioactive content from your Web site by purchasing an encoder and server. The Audioactive mp3 Producer is a set of audio tools that will allow you to encode streamed Audioactive content for any Web site. The encoder in mp3 Producer supports adjustable bit-rate capabilities, which allows sites to offer multiple audio sources at different bit-stream rates. For example, a site could offer 28.8 Kbps users one type of audio stream, another type for ISDN users, and yet another for those who have higher 'net connections. The only downside is that while the cost of a RealAudio server ranges from $300 and up, the price of mp3 Producer and one of the Audioactive server options (necessary for serving streamed Audioactive content) is quite a bit higher at just under $10,000.
The freeware player client also has a couple of negative aspects that keep it from being more competitive with players that use other streaming technologies (RealPlayer, NetShow, etc.) First, it lacks RealPlayer's plug-in and inline Web capabilities; Audioactive currently functions only as a Web helper application. Second, Audioactive is an audio-only application, meaning that it lacks the video on-demand capabilities of clients like RealPlayer, NetShow, Streamworks, and VDOLive. Finally, since the Audioactive specification is so new, you won't be able to find as many sample sound bytes for the player as you currently can for similar clients like RealPlayer. Still, when it comes to listening to a radio station on the Web or when you're just looking for great sound quality in real time, Audioactive may well be your best bet.
Pros: Outstanding real-time audio streaming, excellent quality even with a slow connection
Cons: No plug-in version, lacks video on-demand capabilities, expensive server costs
Newin v.2.06a (beta): Supports the mp3 and swa audio formats; supports m3u playlist files; decodes using the latest Fraunhofer MPEG 1, 2, and 2.5 Layer 3 algorithms; provides 0 to 120 seconds of network buffering; scrolling marquee; keyboard shortcuts; direct volume control; drag-and-drop support; add audio files to be played while listening; ID3v1.1, ID3v2 tag viewer; command line support; integrated playlist editor; Release Notes
Upgrade Meter: 4
Version Reviewed: 1.3
Date of Review: 2/1/98
Reviewed by: Forrest Stroud