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Computing

From...

Masses won't soon stream to PCs to watch TV

July 29, 1998
Web posted at: 4:56 PM ET

by Patrick Thibodeau

(IDG) -- Streaming media makes it possible for a PC to function like a television. But don't expect the same image quality.

A streamed image especially one viewed at slower modem speeds over the Internet is far from television-like.

The compressed image received by a 28.8K bit/sec. modem, for instance, typically arrives at a jerky four to five frames per second vs. television's 30 frames per second. And the credit-card-size image that appears on the PC is no fun to look at.

"I'm excited about the potential of the technology, but right now video is pretty brutal," says David Card, an analyst at Jupiter Communications, Inc. in New York.

It's a different picture on corporate networks. Wider networks allow larger streams with subsequent improvement in quality.

But the improvements in clarity and sound of images sent over a corporate network can be offset by bandwidth requirements. Streaming media needs a lot of bandwidth.

For example, if 100 users are watching full-screen video at a 300K bit/sec. stream rate, or about 10 to 12 frames per second, they are using a total of 30M bytes of bandwidth.

A large company could easily swamp its networks if thousands of users sign on to hear a CEO's pep talk. "You can't risk everybody getting on," says Joan-Carol Brigham, an analyst at International Data Corp. in Framingham, Mass. "You've got to control [use of the network], or you will end up losing control."

Despite that issue, analysts say a strong business case can be made for using streaming sound and images, especially for training.

"If you're talking about training videos [for] a highly dispersed sales force... then, yes, it's absolutely worth the trouble," says Seema Williams, an analyst at Forrester Research, Inc. in Cambridge, Mass. "It means you're trading off bandwidth for an airplane ticket to some training facility."

Video files and sound files can come in a variety of formats, and the trend among vendors is to support as many formats as possible.

Leading streaming technology vendors include Real Networks, Inc. in Seattle, which set a de facto standard on audio streaming with its RealAudio and also makes RealVideo. Microsoft Corp.'s NetShow streaming technology also is widely used, and Microsoft has a stake in Real Networks. Apple Computer, Inc.'s QuickTime is a front-runner, too.

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Q & A

Peter Yorke, senior Web technologist at Seattle-based aircraft manufacturer, The Boeing Co., talks about the company's use of streaming video. More than 160,000 employees worldwide use the tool via the company's intranet.

How are you using streaming technology at Boeing?
We've been doing streaming technology for about the last two years for marketing, communication and training purposes.

What are the pitfalls you have to plan for when deploying streaming technology?
For us, there were a lot of folks with legitimate concerns. We spent a lot of time allaying their concerns. For example: What it was going to do to the network, what kind of additional infrastructure was the workstation going to require and even some environmental things to make sure that people had headphones vs. speakers.

How have users adapted to the technology? Are they happy with the quality of streamed video, or are some turned off by it?
Most folks are willing to live with a lower image quality and frame rate just to have this information on their desktops. I think we're looking at an evolutionary process. We know that it's not going to be as perfect as television, but I think we are committed to embracing the technology and knowing that it will improve over time.

If you offer video-on-demand, you run the risk of overloading your network if a lot of users begin streaming simultaneously. Was that an issue?
It was a consideration when we first started. But we found it's extremely unlikely, just given the nature of people being in different time zones, with different learning styles, different time management practices.... We have governors in place that will not [let us] exceed a number of concurrent users.

What is the chief business value of streaming technology?
First and foremost, consistency of message. I think prior to [streaming], you would hear something on-high, and it was filtered down to your vice president, to your director. And by the time it got to your first-line supervisor and you, the message sort of had spin control and people's own perceptions of what the message meant.

This technology short-circuits that entire process. You see the person; you sense the genuineness of the speaker.

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