The Spring Internet World conference in Los Angeles this week may offer a hint to the high-speed future. A number of companies at the show unveiled new software to improve on current video streaming and instant messaging technology.
Internet Pictures, which has developed new video software with features allowing 360 degrees movement within an ongoing movie, builds on its iPIX viewer. The company's iPIX viewer previously offered a 360-degree view of still photographs.
Another player in the market, On2.com offers software that allows users to view high-resolution, full-screen video streamed over the Internet. The software is being showcased through On2.com's broadband portal, which competes with similar sites offered by Comcast Online and Excite@Home.
MShow.com's conference and collaboration software, in another niche, integrates video, instant messaging and online whiteboards. Other makers of online collaboration software, which can be used for everything from business seminars to online learning to teleconferences, include Centra and Lotus.
In a somewhat different category, Oakland, Calif.-based DigiScents offers hardware and software that will allow users to smell Web sites and email. DigiScents signed an agreement last year with RealNetworks to have Real distribute DigiScents' ScentStream software with its RealPlayer.
Broadband access allows Net users to send and receive more information in much less time than over standard dial-up connections. A software program that might take more than an hour to download over a 28.8 or 56.6 kbps modem might take just minutes over a T-1 or DSL connection. In recent years, high-speed access through T-1 or digital subscriber line services has become the norm at big businesses.
Meanwhile, on the consumer side, Excite@Home's cable modem service just topped 1 million customers and digital subscriber line services from companies such as Pacific Bell are gaining a growing following.
Still, only a fraction of Internet users have access to the high-speed Net access needed for Webcasts and other features. Jupiter, for instance, projects that only 20 percent of consumers will have broadband connections by 2004.
And some analysts say companies such as On2.com that hope to capitalize on broadband are ahead of their time.
"It's futuristic to build a business model around delivering these types of services," said Jupiter Communications Web technologies analyst Billy Pidgeon. "The only advantage is the first-mover advantage: owning a market as it goes forward."
Discovery Online and the Hawaiian Visitor and Convention Bureau have already signed up to use Internet Pictures iPIX 360-degree movie technology. But company senior vice president of corporate development Ed Harris said iPIX is not yet central to Internet Picture's success.
Internet Pictures got its start offering technology to produce 360-degree still images. The Oak Ridge, Tenn.-based company offers software, cameras and other equipment to produce those images.
"If (iPIX movies) was the only product or service that we had, we might be a little bit ahead of our time," Harris said. "(But) everybody that we've been working with over the last couple of years wants to know what's coming next. People are very excited to have this technology in their hands."
Salem Communications is one company that's already experimenting with broadband applications. The southern California-based Christian radio network is using the extra network bandwidth to show live concerts on its Christian Pirate Radio Web site.
With more people gaining high-speed Internet access, the company decided eight months ago to offer Webcasts of live shows from Christian musicians such as Jars of Clay, said Brian Quock, business development manager for Christian Pirate Radio.
With better quality video available, advertisers are more willing to sponsor the Webcasts and musicians and bands are willing to perform in them, he said.
"Broadband opens up more opportunities. Advertisers want to sponsor Webcasts because of the clearer picture," Quock said. "It's more marketable for them, and we get to do more events."
Musicians see the Webcasts as a good marketing tool. When musicians kick off a lengthy tour, many of them allow one of their early concerts to be broadcast live on the Web--to drum up interest for the rest of the tour.
"Two years ago, musicians said 'we don't see the value in them,'" Quock added. "Now they're more open."