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Review of RealAudio Player

Paul Cipywnyk

Are you looking for ways in which to blow even more time and money on the World Wide Web? Do you want to show off your multimedia system by playing something other than games or music CDs through those speakers? If so, RealAudio is just the thing you need.

Progressive Networks' RealAudio Player is a free application that plays real-time sound over the Internet.

"Big deal! I've been downloading sound files from the Net and playing them...." Whoa. Back up and read that last sentence again, carefully. Real-time sound.

With RealAudio, you just click on any ".ra" file while you're online on the WWW, and presto, the file plays through your speakers. You can fast-forward and rewind. If you don't like a clip, just hit the stop button, and try another one. You can hop from site to site, and listen to news, documentaries, chat shows, whatever, all while you're online.

How's the sound quality? The claim is: AM quality speech. Well, the first time I tried it with my 14.4 modem, I was not impressed. I tried the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's (CBC) site to listen to the Canadian national news, which is updated daily. A small "Loss Warning" window popped up telling me I was losing 20-30% of the packets, and my wife said "it sounds like Darth Vader underwater."

On to another site. NPR came through great. ABC radio was also good. A Rolling Stones song was horrible. A local AM radio computer news and chat show from Victoria, Canada was excellent. Obviously the quality depends on your connection and the level of traffic on the server you access. Other tries of the CBC site have resulted in much better sound.

Why not just download sound files and play them offline? Wouldn't you save online time? Well, the little experimentation that I've done has shown that playing an ".ra" file online takes about the same length of time as downloading it. One disadvantage of course is that if you want to hear some file again, it's not on your local hard drive.

So what's out there on the Net to listen to? Piles of URLs! (URLs are those brightly colored words that you click on to reach sites on the WWW. "URL" means "Universal Resource Locator" - a hidden address under those flashy links.) I was surprised at the range of sites. Of course the big guns are NPR, ABC, and CBC, but there are hundreds of sites in dozens of countries that have ".ra" files available. Your best bet is to go to the RealAudio home page on the WWW, and check out their extensive listing of links.

What do you need to run RealAudio? You need a SLIP or PPP Net connection, and at least a 14.4 modem. Other hardware minimum requirements are as follows:

486/33 SX or better running Windows 3.1 or higher
2MB free disk space
A Soundcard and speakers with a Windows driver

RealAudio will NOT run with sound emulator programs that access the PC's internal speaker. You must have a real multimedia system.

How do you get started? Contact Progressive Networks with your WWW browser and follow the download instructions. The program is free, but you have to fill out and send a validation form with your WWW browser, and then you will receive a URL by email (within a minute or two) from which you download the program. Just copy the URL from your email program, and paste it into your WWW browser's "Open Location" dialog box. It's also a good idea to click on and "save-to-disk" the "RealAudio Player Release Notes," and the "RA Player FAQ" (Frequently Asked Questions) while you're on their home page, so that you can refer to them offline if you have any trouble. Just follow the instructions, and you'll be listening to real-time audio on the Net.

Authors note: this article is taken verbatum from the original text published in Algorithmica Japonica, so some of the references to links may "read" a bit strangely on the WWW.
© Algorithmica Japonica Copyright Notice: Copyright of material rests with the individual author. Articles may be reprinted by other user groups if the author and original publication are credited. Any other reproduction or use of material herein is prohibited without prior written permission from TPC. The mention of names of products without indication of Trademark or Registered Trademark status in no way implies that these products are not so protected by law.

Algorithmica Japonica

November, 1995

The Newsletter of the Tokyo PC Users Group

Submissions : Editor

Tokyo PC Users Group, Post Office Box 103, Shibuya-Ku, Tokyo 150-8691, JAPAN