Internet multimedia needs a wider highway

From PC Week for April 24, 1995 by Jeff Frentzen

Like it or not, multimedia client/server applications are starting to crowd onto the Internet -- examples include real-time conferencing with video, audio, or both; "multicasting" services such as Internet Talk Radio; and other "wide-load" technologies -- and they're guaranteed to clog an already overloaded network. It's wise to educate yourself about these technologies now. The idea of Internet-based multimedia may sound cool, but you should be informed of the implementation costs and maintenance hassles.

On the public Internet, the best-known example of distributed multimedia is probably MBONE, which stands for the Virtual Internet Backbone for Multicast IP. Multicast IP-based technology distributes and replicates a multicast data stream among special routers. The concept is fascinating and MBONE is good at distributing real-time audio, but TCP/IP is not a good medium for distributing real-time video. MBONE might be a good choice for smaller private networks, though. For more information, point your browser at MBONE's Information Web site http://www.eit.com/techinfo/mbone/mbone.html

On a smaller scale, check out CU-SeeMe, a videoconferencing application that runs on Mac- and Windows-based systems. This freeware product is available at http://magneto.csc.ncsu.edu/Multimedia/Classes/Spring94/projects/proj6/ cu-seeme.html.

To get a better idea of how well audio-visual applications work on the Internet, go to the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.'s Radio on the Internet site http://radioworks.cbc.ca/. You'll find a lot of CBC's regular entertainment and news programming on-line; be sure your Web browser supports sound before downloading the often enormous audio files.

Companies with sound-only information on their nets should look into the products offered by RealAudio -- http://www.realaudio.com/index.html -- which proposes a new compression scheme for real-time audio distribution using networked Windows-based computers.

Finally, technologists should investigate two Internet sites housing white papers and Requests for Comments concerning multimedia and the Internet. The MICE Multimedia Index, at http://csrc.ncsl.nist.gov/, covers a variety of IETF reports, links to MBONE-related sites, and network-based conferencing issues; the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Telemedia, Networks, & Systems Publications archive, at http://www.tns.lcs.mit.edu/publications/publications.html, holds an impressive cache of technical papers regarding standards, client/server products for the Internet, and implementation issues.