Software - 4k GIF
TIME: 21.26 UTC
What is streaming audio?


Q.  So what is Streaming audio?

A.  It's a method of delivering an audio signal to your computer over the Internet, and differs from the "normal" method of receiving Internet audio in one important way: instead of having to download a ".wav", ".au" or other type of file completely before being able to listen to it, you hear the sound as it arrives at your computer, and therefore do not have to wait for a complete download (which would be difficult with a live broadcast anyway!).

As the data arrives it is buffered for a few seconds and then playback begins. As the audio is playing, more data is constantly arriving (or streaming), and as long as you are receiving a constant stream of data, you should hear constant audio. Obviously you'll need a soundcard, speakers (or headphones) and the appropriate software for this all to work. Think of a bucket (the buffer) with a hole in the bottom, being topped up with water (the data). As long as there is water in the bucket, it will continue to pour out of the hole, and will do this as long as there is water in the bucket. Similarly, as long as there is data in the buffer, you will continue to hear sound. Unfortunately the buffer can empty due to congestion on the Internet which may stop you from receiving data - this explains the "net congestion - rebuffering" message you may see from time to time with the RealAudio software.

Software required
Depending on the station, it will probably use one of the 2 major formats currently available: RealAudio® or Windows Media Player®.   A growing number of stations are using streaming MP3 format and Winamp can be used to play these. However, if you don't have it you can configure RealPlayer to play MP3 streams (eg.pls and m3u streams). You will need Winamp though to play Ogg streams as neither Windows Media Player nor RealPlayer can handle these (you'll need the Winamp Ogg plugin). Alternatively you can download Paul Quinn's QCD CD player, which has the ability to play Ogg streams built into it, and saves a LOT of hassle downloading the plugin for Winamp -- it'll also play your cds! Below are screenshots of these players.

There is another delivery method -- Abacast. It uses an existing player (Windows Media Player) and redundant bandwidth. Have a look at their explanation of how it works!
Remember, all the software you will need is FREE.

'RealPlayer G2  - 11k GIF

This is RealPlayer which does provide much better quality than previous RealAudio stream formats.


Below is QCD, which, apart from playing your cds, will play Ogg streams as standard!

Media Player - 34k GIF
This is Microsoft's "Media Player" - be warned, it's a big download (about 9mb)! Generally the first impression of Media Player streams is good, but this disappears after a few minutes of listening; if you listen anyway closely to most Media Player streams you will be able to hear annoying (and often uncomfortable) compression artefacts such as a high speed "warbling". Tinny, shallow audio is also common. You can usually get rid of most of these annoying effects by adjusting your soundcard/Media Player's equaliser controls if you have these, but if you haven't, you'll just have to bear it. I tend to think that a RealPlauyer stream will sound much better than a Media Player stream, and even better than a RealPlayer stream is (in my opinion), an MP3 stream - just have a listen to Das Soundportal's 64k stream from Austria to hear what I mean. Unfortunately many stations are moving over to using Media Player despite the best quality seeming to be from RealAudio and MP3 streams. It's like the VHS/Betamax battle again (a VCR standards battle where Betamax was techincally superior but VHS more popular).
The newest "player on the block" (below) is the "SurferNetwork" (MP3) player. This has to be downloaded only once (between 3 and 4 mb) and provides the fastest start of any of the players currently available - from clicking a link until the audio starts is typically 2-3 seconds (and sometimes quicker, and this includes the time to load the player). This is quite a difference from the likes of MS Media Player, which can take up to 30 seconds. In addition to providing good quality, fast audio, the player also includes nice touches like showing the name of the currently playing song, a link to allow you to buy the cd, and the time remaining until the next song! One downside is that it is very difficult to bookmark stations in the actual player, and to do this takes manually creating a link in your browser which is very fiddly.
SurferNetwork - 24k GIF
For more information and downloading of the software, see the relevant website:


RealPlayer Media Player             QCD





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