S U C K

"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 8 September 1995. Updated every WEEKDAY.
 

 
Passive Consumerism
 

[Dead Audio]

"Real-time transmission of audio

data over the internet?

No way!!"

 

RealAudio is a proprietary sound

file format which allows for

real-time transmission of audio

data over the Web.

 

This you already know.

 

Not only do you most likely have

the RA Player installed - you're

probably listening to some

punk-ass "sketch comedy" or

wasting an hour of your

life listening to an

interview with Slash

at this very moment. Wow.

 

Progressive Network's RA, like so

many net.wonders, may not

exactly blow away your neophyte

friends ("What am I supposed to

be hearing...music?") but for

the dedicated net surfer with a

set of a headphones, it doesn't

sound like shit - it is the

shit.

 

Call me an idealist or simply

naïve, but from my vantage

point, I'm seeing a whole lot of

minuses to this equation.

Execrable sound quality aside,

what RealAudio boils down to is

an astronomically expensive

bandwidth-throttling audio

server priced way out of the

range of the average webhead.

 

[RA]

The RA player is, of course,

free, and the encoding software,

which allows you to convert your

.au and other audio files to .ra

format, is also given away by

PN. The trick is in obtaining

the essential RA server, which,

though offered as a free

sixty-day demo, will ultimately

run you about $10K per 100

simultaneous streams - $100 for

each listener. That's without

upgrades, ma'am, and never mind

the cost of your saturated T1

link.

 

And what do you get for that $100

a head? PN's been rather

tight-lipped about their

compression code, but, according

to one anonymous ex-Apple guru,

nothing that couldn't be

duplicated and improved upon by

a smart, motivated college geek

or two: take, in way of (bad)

example, Roman Mitnitski's

UnReal Audio server.

Whatever magic RealAudio may

possess, though, does lie within

its compression algorithm -

which both the RA encoder and

player take advantage of, but

which has precious little to do

with what the company is

charging the big bucks for, the

RealAudio server: here,

Progressive Networks seems to

be following Netscape's lead in

overvaluing a server product to

give the bean counters some sort

of profit model, while

attempting to grab market share

by giving away the client.

 

PN's not the only company playing

this let's-give-away-the-TV-sets-

and-we'll-make-a-killing-on-the-

TV-station shill game: its

competitors, DSP Group and Xing,

are following this same course.

There's a real difference

between real-time audio on the

net and the Web scenario that

Netscape played out, though: in

the case of real-time audio,

there're no standards, and no

cheap alternatives.

 

It's anyone's guess whether PN,

and its competitors, will be

forced to drastically reduce

their server prices in a

market-driven attempt to

penetrate the broader base of

noncommercial Web sites and to

establish some proprietary de

facto standard - or, to follow

recent trends, to appear viable

for an initial public stock

offering. For the time being,

though, the method to PN's and

its ilk's madness is

disheartening when thought of in

the context of net.economics and

rampant commercialism.

 

[$$RA$$]

How long will it take PN or other

start-ups to market RealVideo,

RealNewsfeed, RealMultimedia, ad

nauseam, each at its own

respectively outrageous price?

When the Web is ruled by

well-financed Media Heavyweights

broadcasting from hi-tech

studios, what will be the

qualitative difference between

the Web and TV?

 

Sure, larger Web sites like

HotWired and C|Net already

approximate this, but the

differences between their sites

and yours are largely due to

issues of scale, not inflated

barriers to entry. Given enough

incentive and amphetamines you

and your buddies could rule the

digital world.

 

Major media outlets having access

to expensive broadcast tools is

nothing new or radical - nor is

your consumption thereof. If

there is something revolutionary

about the Web, it's the capacity

for cranks, crazies and cretins

to operate with the same tools

as and compete with the big

guys. That's what makes this

whole mess worthwhile.

 

And that is the real shit.




courtesy of the Duke of URL