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Architectural support for ProgNet

At its first developer conference, audio-streaming pioneer Progressive Networks showcases its RealMedia Architecture and the companies supporting it.

BURLINGAME, California--Progressive Networks wants to stream media with a little help from its friends.

At its first developer conference here today, the audio-streaming pioneer showcased its RealMedia Architecture (RMA) and the companies, such as Macromedia and ABC, that plan to support it in their products and services.

RealMedia enables companies to add various streamed media, including cartoon animation and text, with Progressive's RealAudio and RealVideo broadcasting technology.

Streamed audio and video allow users to check out clips as they are being downloaded from the Net, instead of having to wait until after they've downloaded completely before playing them.

Announced last October, RealMedia is part of a Progressive strategy to gradually crack open up its proprietary products. RealMedia broadcasts will still require Progressive's client and server products to transmit another vendor's media, but the company has promised to open its technology more fully by supporting the real-time streaming protocol (RTSP), a proposed Internet standard. RTSP will allow a video client from Vivo, for example, to tune in to a broadcast from Progressive's RealVideo Server.

In his keynote speech today, Rob Glaser, chief executive officer of Progressive, said his company was committed to working with other vendors to improve the audiovisual experience users have on the Internet. He also emphasized that Net will provide a relatively accessible distribution mechanism for films and radio broadcasts that are ignored by established media.

"Everybody can be a programmer--not just major media outlets," Glaser said.

But Glaser and others who are betting that streaming will transform media--allowing radio and TV stations to cheaply set up shop on the Net--are still working out some significant kinks with the technology. Over standard modem connections, watching video is still a herky-jerky experience, though the quality of audio broadcasts has markedly improved.

"You've got to take a long-term view that, day one, you're not going to have solved all the problems," Glaser said.

Streaming also needs to be refined to handle large audiences. A technology called IP multicasting promises to do that by broadcasting streamed media more efficiently over the Net. Although it will likely take years for IP multicasting to seep into the mass market, Glaser said Progressive has been testing a technology with Internet publisher Starwave called "splitting" that makes IP multicasting possible today.

In the meantime, Progressive and its partners are finding new ways to cram more media into Net broadcasts. As previously reported by CNET, the company released a beta version of its RealMedia SDK, the tools that all programmers to mix media into a single broadcast.

Today, a number of companies announced that they would support RealMedia in their products:

  • Macromedia promised to support RealMedia in all of its authoring tools, including Director and its new Shockwave Flash tool.
  • Free Range Media announced Lariat, a Java-based tool for managing streamed media, including automating the encoding process and archiving media. The product will be available in beta form in April and is designed to work within the RealMedia Architecture.