What do you do with your intranet or internet site once you've added words and pictures? Well, you can start to add video, but it's not cheap and it isn't easy. So how about adding streaming audio instead? Steve Nichols looks at how.
Audio is fast, friendly, breaks down barriers and is very compelling - you just have to click on that button!
It's now getting easier to add audio to the net too, thanks to increasing bandwidths and innovative new ways of compressing data.
The problem has been that CD-quality audio has traditionally been the preserve of ISDN- and ADSL-equipped users. Basically, there has been too much data to fit down the pipe.
But, borrowing on the same techniques that are used to compress digital photographic images, it is now possible to compress sound to make it fit down a standard dial-up 56KBps modem line.
The trick is to compress the audio in a way that doesn't sound offensive to the ear, but can still pass along the line at about 3 kilobytes per second, given that a dial-up modem downloads at about 4-ish kilobytes per second.
The next trick is to use streaming technology that can start to play the audio while it is still downloading. As a long as it is downloads fast enough you don't get annoying stops and starts. You should also end up with a "buffer". In many cases, the whole audio file will have downloaded long before the user has finished listening to it.
The volume of online streaming audio grew by 118 per cent last year, according to market researchers US-based AccuStream iMedia Research and the top ten internet radio stations received an average of 137.5m tuning hours in the same period, up from 63m in 2003.
Typical audio formats are Real's Radio Player (as chosen by the BBC), the ubiquitous MP3 (as featured on thousands of youngster's personal hi-fis) and Macromedia Flash.
The latter is the way I chose to go as 98% of computers already have the Flash plug-in and the rest can easily download it. Flash takes the MP3 file, combines it with an audio controller button and streams it for you off any server, which means low-cost and ease of use.
You can check some samples at my web site at www.infotechcomms.co.uk/info10.htm. These were produced using a program called MP3 Sound Stream, but you could also use Sonic Memo or Audio Generator. There are links to these packages at the bottom of the above page.
So once you have the technology in place, what can you record? The answer is anything. Adding audio to an intranet lets you record a weekly message from the CEO or a sales message. Or why not have a weekly news round-up?
The audio can either
be recorded straight into your PC via a microphone and soundcard, or recorded
on a Minidisc recorder and then digitised into the computer. Once there
you can add
What was once the preserve of the BBC and other high-end radio studios is now available on a desktop computer near you.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q. What is streaming
Q. What's the advantage
over other audio formats?
Q. What do listeners
need to have on their computer?
Q. This all sounds
expensive - is it?
You also need to think about a MiniDisc recorder as these have superseded cassette tape for most applications. Royalty-free background and intro music is available on CD and via the web for a small fee.
Q. How do I find
Q. What is the
Steve Nichols is a freelance journalist who runs InfoTech Communications (www.infotechcomms.co.uk). A background in radio means that Steve was ideally placed to take advantage of the arrival of streaming audio via the web.