RealNetworks, the never-look-back streaming media people, recently released RealVideo 9 and RealAudio Surround, bringing home theater audio and video to broadband users and a near VHS-quality video experience to dial-up modem users.
The latest demos are amazing. RealVideo 9 provides 30 percent bandwidth savings over RealVideo 8 at all quality levels, delivering full-motion video to modem users for the first time, and commercial digital quality to broadband users.
RealAudio Surround's multichannel surround sound at 44 kbps works with the millions of receivers already in consumers' homes.
On the business side, content owners can encode more efficiently using less storage and saving costs by decreasing bandwidth 30 percent.
TAKE ANOTHER LOOK
For broadcasters who have wanted to deliver video clips to dial-up users, it might be time to reassess the technology. We saw very respectable half-screen video clips at dial-up bit-rates using RealVideo 9.
As for broadband, we watched full-screen VHS-quality starting at 160 kbps and close-to-DVD-quality at 500 kbps. Admittedly these were demo conditions, but very impressive nonetheless.
Supporting both interlaced content for standard TV and HDTV formats and resolutions, RealVideo 9's improved compression allows for two DVD-quality movies to fit on one CD. Up to 15 full-length films will fit onto a single DVD. The technology, when considered under the RealOne Enterprise Desktop, provides a viable new platform for integrated content presentation enabling the coordination of video, text, web pages and contextual links.
During a visit with Ben Rotholtz, general manager of products and systems at RealNetworks, we were shown a compelling application for filmmakers that allows a DVD to be linked to live or stored content on the Internet. The Real system can be "wrapped" around the MPEG-based DVD and run at the same time as the movie, allowing a wide range of ancillary content to be added and changed at will.
We were also shown video presentations the length of feature films running wirelessly on a Compaq IPaq handheld PC. Using the available authoring tools, producers could build interactive educational, training or medical programming to run on just about anything -- even handhelds.
And, in fact, they have. With the announcement of RealVideo 9, RealNetworks also announced rich-media corporate communications and sales training solutions for businesses, educational institutions and government. These include end-to-end content creation, publishing, delivery, playback and network management solutions as well as hosting services.
A diverse group of organizations including Boeing Corp., California State University-Long Beach, MFS, Oracle, UCLA Medical Center, and the U.S. Army are already using RealNetworks media delivery solutions internally.
Synching audio, video, PowerPoint slides, graphics and Web pages for live and on-demand delivery to the RealOne Enterprise Desktop is enabled with tools and plug-ins from RealNetworks and partners. These tools are a key component of integrated solutions, unlocking the ability for decentralized content creation within enterprises.
RealNetworks PresenterOne, by Accordent, offers a full authoring environment including interactive features for polling, surveys and more; it is targeted for educational and training settings. RealNetworks Presentation Maker, by sofTV.net, offers a full authoring environment complete with a library of three-pane templates to help enterprise professionals create compelling presentations. Camtasia RealSystem Edition easily records movements on the desktop -- especially useful for training applications -- while Enounce's 2xAV client plug-in puts users in charge of playback speed.
Even the U.S. Army is using the technology for recruiting. With RealNetworks' technology, potential recruits can go to the U.S. Army Web site and read about a current soldier's testimonies and interviews, providing them with essential information about pursuing an Army career.
"One of the challenges of recruiting is the unknown quality of what happens at basic training. We have used RealNetworks' digital media on our Go Army Web site to open up the lives of six ordinary recruits and allow them to tell their story. Being able to see and hear soldiers tell about their experiences helps us to better inform and educate young Americans and help them overcome those fears," said CPT David Connolly, U.S. Army Recruiting, Public Affairs.
One of the early broadcast players to use streaming media technology is upbeat on the new version. "We have always recognized that RealNetworks is at the forefront of technology," said Bernard Gershon, senior vice president and general manager, ABC News.com. "RealVideo 9 at both low and high bandwidths is a true breakthrough. I believe that RealVideo 9 will show modem users, for the first time, how good Internet video can be."
A showcase of RealVideo 9 and a preview of RealAudio Surround content is available at: http://www.realnetworks.com/solutions/leadership/realvideo.html
Frank Beacham is an independent writer based in New York.
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