Video Out: Eleven Easy Steps to Streaming

Whether your pet video project is Exposing The Chattanooga City Council or Baby Timmy Makes a Mud Pie, its likely youve been tempted by the possibility of streaming it over the Internet. Putting video on the Web is a great way to show your work to others, whether you plan to offer sample clips that might lead to a lucrative sale of your tape, or to just display your work to friends, relatives and admirers. If youre new to the Web, you might think that getting your video into streaming formats requires lots of tricky mouse-jockeying and a hefty wallet, but thats no longer the case.

The latest crop of streaming-media packages makes it easier than ever to incorporate streaming video into your existing Web site whether or not your Web provider runs a video-streaming server. In the following 11 steps, well show you how to start with a standard Windows movie file (.avi) and turn it into a streaming video presentation.

Our example uses RealNetworks RealProducer Plus, one of the most popular streaming video tools, but by no means the only one. The concepts in this example also apply to stream-building packages such as Sonic Foundrys all-in-one Stream Anywhere, Terran Interactives Media Cleaner Pro, the native Macintosh application QuickTime Pro as well as Microsofts Windows Media Tools.


The Process

On launching RealProducer Plus, youll be asked a series of questions to find out what type of video you want to create and what to do with the thing once it has been created.


Step 1. Select Recording Options

Turning this feature on will allow others to "record" your streaming video by saving it to their hard drives as it plays. If youre working with copyrighted material or have worries about others stealing your thunder, its best to turn this feature off.


Step 2. Choose a Recording Wizard

Fortunately, RealNetworks has followed the lead of many software providers and ditched the animated wizard characters. Instead they use the term to describe a series of dialog boxes that guide you through an otherwise tooth-gnashing process. There are three to choose from.

  •  Record from FileAllows you to convert an existing .avi, .mov or MPEG-1 movie file into streaming RealVideo.

  •  Record from Media DeviceAllows you to record video directly from an input device such as a VCR, camcorder or WebCam, but youll need the necessary capture hardware installed in your computer if you intend to record from an external source/device.

  •  Live BroadcastSets up your computer to serve streaming video to a compatible RealServer elsewhere on the Net for a live Webcast. This method might be used to broadcast a meeting, a television newscast or even your appendectomy if youre so inclined.


    Step 3. Choose a File

    When you choose the "Record from File" option, RealProducer prompts you find the movie file on your hard drive using a standard dialog box. Again, this example assumes that youre working with a single existing movie file. In most cases, an edited project rendered to a single .avi or .mov file.


    Step 4. Supply RealMedia

    Clip Information

    RealProducer next prompts for details to include

    in your video file. Its a good idea to include things like copyright information (to thwart the thunder-stealers), a brief description, as well as a few pertinent keywords.


    Step 5. Select a File Type

    The selection you make in this Window determines the type of file RealProducer will create from your source video.

  •  Multi-Rate

    If your Web site host uses RealServer G2, count yourself among the truly privileged. G2 servers automatically detect the users connection speed and then serve up an optimized video, meaning that your users always see the best quality video for their connection whether theyre on a cable connection next door or a budget modem somewhere in the Himalayas.

  •  Single RateIf your Web host doesnt run RealServer G2, you can still serve streaming video on any standard Web server with this method. With Single Rate, you have to create one or more video files optimized to different connection speeds, and then allow your users to choose one that suits them.


    Step 6. Select your Target Audience

    Well assume that you dont have access to a RealServer G2 and that youll serve your video from a standard Web host. When you select "Single Rate" youll be prompted to choose one or more "target audiences" that will view your file. If you choose more than one, RealProducer will create a separate video file for each. For example, if you choose 28.8k modem and ISDN RealProducer will make two files, one with smaller file size and lower video quality to serve over 28.8 modems, and one with larger file size and better video quality to take advantage of broader bandwidths.


    Step 7. Select an Audio Format

    RealProducer next asks you to select the audio quality for your video. Lower selections like "Voice Only" mean smaller files and more room in the stream for better-looking video. The trade-off is that lower rates can also make certain audio sound like someone with a mouthful of enchilada shouting into a tin can. In general, its best to try the lower-quality options first and use the higher rates only if your resulting audio is unintelligible, or if your project has a more complex audio track with music and sound effects.


    Step 8. Select a Video Format

    Like the Audio Format dialog, this screen allows you to choose the quality of your resulting video. In practice, we have found that "Smoothest Motion" delivers pretty fair video quality, but "Normal Motion" occasionally makes actors appear as if theyd been painted during Picassos Cubist period. Sorrenson video compression used in products like Media Cleaner Pro has a Developers Edition that uses Variable Bit Rate (VBR) to dramatically smooth out some of these artifacts. Experiment to find the best rate and product for your content. Many Web sites, like Terran.com, have demos of their latest software you can take for a test drive.


    Step 9. Choose an Output File

    RealProducer next prompts you to specify a filename and location to save your RealVideo file. It supplies a filename based on that of your input file, but if that title doesnt grab you, choose the "Save As" option to customize it.


    Step 10. Encode your Video

    Finally, RealProducer provides a summary of the options youve chosen and returns you to its main screen. If you need to make any last-minute changes to the encoding options, this would be the time. Press the Start button to begin the encoding. Youll see your video whiz by in the display, letting you know that RealProducers magic fairies have begun their handiwork.


    Step 11. Publish Your Video to the Web

    You now have a properly encoded RealVideo file on your hard drive, but its not doing you much good there. Youll need to create a Web page to announce your clip to the world. To begin, choose "Create Web Page" from RealProducers pull-down Tools menu. The wizard will prompt you for the name of the video file and ask whether you want users to view

    it in their browsers (Embedded Player) or in their stand-alone RealPlayer (Pop-Up Player). Finally,

    the wizard asks you to provide a caption for the

    Web page and a location to store the page on your hard drive.

    Once the Web page is saved, you can upload it and your video file to your Web host using standard methods such as an FTP program, or you can choose Publish Web Page from the Tools menu to have RealProducer automate the process with another nifty Wizard.

    Thats all there is to it. Your streaming video is now on display for the world to see. And who knows, soon you may be contacted by eager fans around the globe, assuming you put your actual e-mail address into your videos information boxes instead of using me@you.com as you do with all those Web forms. Good luck.

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