Microsoft Windows Media 9
Windows Media Video (WMV) format is a proprietary version of the MPEG-4 Web standard that will work in a few media players, but not all.
File Format: WMA (audio) and WMV (video).
Pros: Latest version is a great improvement over past upgrades. Video and audio quality are excellent and the player interface is attractive and intuitive. The Windows Media Encoder supports digital-video FireWire capture and device control as well as 5:1 surround-sound support, including the ability to individually compress the different channels of a surround-sound mix. The digital rights management tools in Windows Media Player 9 allows for secure password protection, save-disabling, and even the ability to charge access fees to view Web video. Real and QuickTime offer similar fees for prerecorded video but only WMP allows this for live Web video streams.
Cons: Unfortunately, but not uncharacteristically, Microsoft's use of a proprietary version of MPEG-4 makes the Windows Media formats incompatible with several other Web players (including Apple QuickTime).
Products: Windows Media Encoder 9 Series (includes Windows Media Audio and Video 9), Microsoft Producer 2003 (integrated product that works with Microsoft PowerPoint), Windows Media 9 Player. All of these products are free and can be downloaded from Microsoft's Web site (www.microsoft.com/windows/windowsmedia).
Server products: Windows Media server software is free but requires the Windows 2000 server, which is not free. The number of simultaneous streams of video you can offer depends on the level of Windows 2000 server purchased.
Macromedia Flash MX
The Macromedia Flash file format is an independent platform format that creates low-bandwidth files ideal for Web animation. It has supported embedded video since version Flash MX.
File Format: SWF.
Pros: A wonderful option if you want to use a little video to bolster a presentation you are creating while using all of the other excellent animation and interactive tools in Flash. Macromedia recently introduced the Flash Communication Server tool that lets multiple users stream live video, audio and interactivity within the regular Flash 6 Player.
Cons: Video files in a Flash movie work best if they are small and short. For larger, longer, higher-quality Web video, the other three formats discussed here are better.
Products: Flash MX, Flash Player 6. Flash MX costs $499; the Flash Player 6 is a free download from Macromedia's Web site, www.macromedia.com/software/flashplayer).
Server Products: Macromedia Flash Communication Server MX, $499.
Uses the MPEG-4 Web standard to compress audio and video. Considered a standard for digital video for television, film, CD-ROM, DVD and corporate video production.
File Format: MOV.
Pros: A QuickTime file can include text, hyperlinks, advanced scripting and interactivity, MIDI (musical instrument) synthesis, 3D images, virtual reality, Flash animation and more. Good tools for both prerecorded and live Web-streaming. The Pro version of QuickTime is an amazingly versatile, multimedia application that includes basic video-editing, effects, synthesizer and conversion software for dozens of file formats.
Cons: QuickTime Pro controls can be nonintuitive to new users. QuickTime is still No. 3 after Real and Windows Media in terms of Web penetration, and therefore more of your potential audience will have to download the free player to view your content with QuickTime.
Products: QuickTime Pro, $30; QuickTime Basic (the player), free. Both are available for download from the Apple Computer Web site (www.apple.com/quicktime).
Server products: QuickTime's live-streaming server is included as part of Macintosh OS 10.2 and is also available for free for Windows NT and 2000, Linux and Sun Solaris servers.
The first major streaming format, Real Networks applications use the MPEG-4 Web standard and offer support for other third-party compression formats.
File Format: RA (RealAudio) and RV (RealVideo).
Pros: An excellent format; Real's adoption of the MPEG-4 standard provides quality audio and video. While in actual numbers, Windows Media has greater saturation, the fact that many features in Microsoft's Windows Media Player 9 are only supported in the Windows XP operating system means that of the three main video-streaming formats Real actually has the most users. The Real site offers content-creation tools as well as a number of streaming tools, including Helix Producer Basic and Producer Plus (encoding technology).
Cons: Com of Real Media's live-streaming products and compression tools are quite expensive. Real Media's live-streaming server software is free for up to 25 simultaneous streams. After that it gets expensive quickly: up to 60 viewers, $1,995; up to 100 $8,393; 400 viewers, $54,420.
Products: Helix Producer Plus, $200; Helix Producer Basic (the player), free. Both are available for download at www.realnetworks.com.
Server products: Helix Universal Server Basic, Helix Universal Server Standard and Helix Universal Server Enterprise. Server Basic is a free download; pricing for the Standard and Enterprise versions starts around $2,000.