updated 7:20 p.m. 4.Dec.98.PST
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A Cheat Sheet for Internet Sound
by Ian Christe
While different file formats and compression schemes duke it out for Internet supremacy, keeping track of them can get tricky.
RealAudio: The pioneer and leader in streaming audio, allowing near instantaneous playback of compressed sound. With the 8 October release of RealSystem 5.0, which also streams video and slideshows, RealNetworks is pushing the comparison of its software to "CD-quality" FM stereo signal.
Liquid Audio: Commercial-oriented music distribution software preferred by online retailers like Music Boulevard and the IUMA. Developed with Dolby Digital, offers a lower-grade "preview" format and high-quality "purchase" format. Can stream picture advertisements to browser along with audio; emphasis on secure transactions of copyrighted material.
MIDI: Musical Instrument Direct Interface, the standard of communication for electronic instruments. Sent over the Internet as event data; makes sound by triggering samples on a MIDI synthesizer or using QuickTime Musical Instruments. Current browser plug-ins include Crescendo Plus, Koan Music, Yamaha, Maczilla, and WebTracks. Microsoft is developing a variation of MIDI called Interactive Music Architecture that should function somewhat like Beatnik.
Beatnik: Less concerned with transferring music files over the Web, the fast-rising Beatnik is a fluid, MIDI-like system that can be used to integrate sound into Web-site design. Created by another Dolby, new-wave musician Thomas Dolby Robertson, Beatnik sends instructions to tiny sound files called "groovoids," which are stored on the user's hard drive. Uses Rich Music Format, which, like MOD, includes new sample data and sequencing information in one small file.
MOD: The lingua franca of the Internet's large network of Amiga musicians, MODs are ingenious self-contained sound files that include raw audio data and sequencing information. Also used to a lesser extent on PC and Macintosh systems.
Streamworks, VivoActive, InterVU: Streaming content players that are stressing video, but still capable of delivering audio.
MPEG: Motion Picture Experts Group format discs are replacing tape as the hardware-based video format of choice in Southeast Asia. The high-compression media format enjoys widespread use on the Internet for adult videos, but less so for music. Touted as the next big thing in 1996, the MP3 audio format is now the most popular with IRC-based pirate song traders, who should know their stuff.
AIFF, AU, WAV: Up-to-CD quality, standard platform-identified sound files for Apple, Unix, and PC computers. Bandwidth-heavy, and not designed with the Internet in mind, but widely available for download.
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