Internet Multimedia Revisited

[This page is also obsolete. A historical snapshot of a moving target, as it were. So read this page when you're done for something written more recently, in 2008.]

My original essay began like this:
I will not get as cranky as I could about the 'word' multimedia; that's the term that everyone uses now for computer-based audio and video/animation and I guess we all have to live with it. Just don't ask me to get all excited about 3-D this or virtual that. And of course, there's the pornography which, one might argue, is actually driving multimedia technology, much as World War I drove aviation.

Part of my original idea for this site was to include audio poetry readings and perhaps video clips. Unfortunately, even though everyone says that WEB technology is advancing by leaps and bounds, it really isn't, and the limitations of WEB technology create formidable barriers to my plans.

Things haven't changed all that much since I wrote that, but I have learned a lot.

The basic issue is still analog versus digital: real life is analog and multi-sensory. To reduce reality to audio and video leaves out a lot to begin with, and electronic recordings of the audio and video parts digitize and, inevitably, further reduce the richness and complexity of the 'live' or 'life' experience.

Make no mistake, even a full-screen digital video stream at about a megabyte a minute, or a 'CD quality' audio stream sampled at 44 Mhz is still a sample. It is a collection of measurements and must compress the original analog signal as it omits the parts between the samples, as tiny as they might be.

So anything I present up here in the electronic world is already a compromise which trades off sample size and frequency with 'fidelity' to the original. This applies even when the 'original' is itself a sampled, flattened analog of reality (like a photograph, film or tape recording.)

Now, in order to conserve bandwidth, minimize storage requirements, and generally make the delivery of this 'content' more efficient, the web publisher typically re-samples, compresses the material even further, and by doing so, put that 'formidable barrier' between you, the 'target audience,' and the original experience or event.

The choices made by the web publisher are even more complex than simply trading off size versus quality. There are options for delivery method, for example, going all the way from simply making files available for download, to attempting to feed a live 'stream' of data. There are also a range of choices on the presentation side: separate player, embedded window, plug-in or 'helper app.' The detailed differences between actually streaming , simulating streaming with clever URLs, using plug-ins and mime types, are not the real subject here. The point is, rather, that the delivery choices made by the publisher both on the technical side and on the presentation all have an impact. The barrier I spoke of in the previous paragraph can be more or less transparent based on choices under the publishers' control. I should say 'at least partially so' because you as the 'target audience' have also made implicit technical choices when you selected your browser and underlying OS, choices which dictate how well or poorly your system 'supports' the choices I make as a publisher.

Yes, it is complex. That's why we call it the web, no?

On the balance of this page I'll present a range of format and presentation choices all based on a relatively straightforward (and short) video clip. You'll have an opportunity to compare file sizes, compression codecs, and some different presentation methods.

Unfortunately, using a true streaming media server is not an option I can demonstrate. It's just that for most ISPs, streaming media is a luxury, and I choose not to buy it. So for now, I confine myself to the examples below, and the new Video POTM page which I'm also developing.

The 'original' was recorded in digital video, transferred to the PC via 'firewire' and edited in Adobe Premiere™. Then I used Premier to create an uncompressed Quicktime video, about 12 seconds long, filesize about 370 megabytes. The slightly wide aspect radio is due to the shape of the digital pixels, which I have preserved. It's 720 X 480 in the original format, which is not your pure 4:3 screen size. I won't present that, because I don't have the space for it on this site, and you might not be able to play it anyway.

The first two examples below should either be downloaded for later play, or may spawn an external player, if your browser is set up correctly and you have the appropriate software. The RealNetworks™ examples should spawn a player, if you have one. The links refer to the video file indirectly, so they cannot be downloaded for later play.

I used Quicktime™ to create this half-size version using Cinepack™ compression, now down to about 1.5 megabytes.

I used Quicktime™ again to create a half-size AVI movie, also using Cinepack™ compression, at about 3 megabytes

Finally I used RealProducer from RealNetworks™ to make video streams optimized for 56K (60 KB size) and 'DSL' speed (325 Kb): both pretty slow by today's standards, but I made these videos almost a decade ago.

Richard Minutillo
contact rgminutillo at

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