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Q&A

Q1:I hear a lot about "streaming" video and audio. What does that mean?
A1: In the past, video and audio files took minutes and sometimes hours to retrieve through most modems, which severely limited the inclusion of video and audio on Web pages. The goal that everyone is moving toward is streaming video or audio, which will play while the data is being received. This is to say that you will not have to completely download the clip before you can start to watch it.

Streaming playback is now widely supported through Microsoft Internet Explorer's built-in features and Netscape Navigator plug-ins, as well as the popular RealPlayer from http://www.real.com. The examples in this hour use Windows AVI and WAV audio files to demonstrate both streaming and the old-fashioned download-and-play methods of delivering audiovisual media.

Q2:How do I choose among audiovisual file formats such as QuickTime, Windows AVI/WAV, RealVideo/RealAudio, and MPEG? Is there any significant difference among them?
A2: QuickTime is the most popular video format among Macintosh users, although QuickTime players are available for Windows 3.1 and Windows 95 as well. Similarly, AVI and WAV are the video and audio formats of choice for Windows users, but you can get AVI and WAV players for the Macintosh. However, all these are almost certain to be eclipsed by MPEG as the online audio and video standard of choice within the next couple of years. MPEG-1 video is best for Internet transmission because it is far more compact than MPEG-2. MPEG-3 is already gaining ground as the high-fidelity audio standard of choice. Unfortunately, relatively few people have MPEG-compatible players installed now.

How do you choose? If most of your audience uses Windows, pick AVI or WAV. If your audience includes a significant number of Macintosh users, pick QuickTime or at least offer it as an alternative. If cross-platform compatibility is essential, consider the RealVideo or RealAudio format—although only those who download special software from http://www.real.com will be able to see that format. In any case, plan to switch to MPEG eventually.


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