The Real Video Format

Jan 18 22:00 2002 Richard Lowe Print This Article

One of the big problems on the internet is the fact that by far the vast majority of people use slow dial-up ... In spite of all of the hoopla about DSL and Cable, perhaps 90% to 95% of all o

One of the big problems on the internet is the fact that by far
the vast majority of people use slow dial-up connections. In spite
of all of the hoopla about DSL and Cable,Guest Posting perhaps 90% to 95% of
all of the people in the United States is still on dial-up. In
addition, most of the rest of the planet has not been wired for
high speed access and probably will not be for some time.

This introduces a real problem to companies that want to sell or
distribute multimedia on the web. How do you do that without
requiring downloads that are hours (and even days) long? Many
users will wait an hour or two for their favorite Britney Spears
video once in a while, but they may not be as willing (or as able)
to wait for a movie trailer or sound clip. And very, very few
people will wait for an advertisement, no matter that the video
is wonderful.

Many video standards were created in an effort to overcome this
basic problem. Two different philosophies arose: streaming and
non-streaming. In streaming video (and audio) you don't have to
wait for the entire movie to download; the movie begins playing
as soon as enough of it has been received by your system to
begin. Non-streaming, on the other hand, must be fully downloaded
in order to be played.

In 1995, a company call RealNetworks created a new standard for
streaming audio and released a program called RealAudio. At
first this was used to distribute pre-recorded information. On
September 5th 1995, the first live broadcast using RealAudio was
the Seattle Mariners vs. The New York Yankees game.

Over the years since, RealNetworks has constantly and
aggressively upgraded their technology to include video as well,
and to allow for a paid and subscription model.

By distributing the players for free (and later offering an
upgraded, "better" paid version) was one of the primary reasons
that the Real formats became so popular so fast. In addition,
Real videos and sound files could be played on Macintosh and
Windows systems, making it more cross-platform that some of the

The RealNetworks formats are proprietary, which means only that
company and authorized agents may use them. You can purchase the
software to create audio and video Real format files, but they
are not cheap.

Personally, I am not very fond of this format. I find the
constant, nagging updates to be annoying in the extreme. It is
very disconcerting to have purchased Real Player 7 and find that
I cannot view Real Player 8 videos without downloading the new
FREE version (I would have to pay an upgrade fee to get the paid
version). This version mismatch seems to happen much too often
and is so annoying that I have actually removed the player from
my own system.

In addition, RealNetworks has a nasty reputation of releasing
spyware. There have been many reports, most especially from the
highly respected Steve Gibson of (
It makes me very nervous to install a product such as the Real
Player, then find Zone Alarm asking me lots of questions about
whether or not it can access the internet. According to
RealNetworks, their product is not spyware since the uses of the
data are fully spelled out in the privacy policy. Let me just
point out that their privacy policy is, I'm sure, very complete -
the document is 187kb in size!

I visited the web site recently ( and found
that it's very different from the one I saw years ago. It's
obvious that some marketing people have been hard at work. For
example, it used to be that you could find mention of the free
version of the player directly on the front page, brilliantly
displayed. Now I had to search for over 15 minutes until I found a
link to the earlier version available for free (I got the distinct
impression that the newer versions are not free).

I also have a problem with download and installation procedures
that ask me to purchase additional products (lots of them) by
default (I have to turn them off explicitly), ask for too many
options about what they can do and seem to be trying much to hard
to sell me additional things constantly. I'm sorry, all I want to
do is download the silly player so I can see that Osama Bin Laden
video, not purchase a gold subscription to this and access to
that, and oh yes, can they send me this and that and this and
that? Jeez.

As a webmaster, I cannot say that I would feel comfortable
putting Real video and audio content onto my site. While the
technology is sound and works well, I think I'll stick with
formats which do not require so much work and so many decisions
on the part of my audience.

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Richard Lowe
Richard Lowe

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