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Streaming Video Comes to Notes/Domino

By Christine Banfield and Helen Casabona

Notes/Domino will soon come bundled with RealNetworks software, enabling users to create high-quality audio-video clips that can be viewed in real time.

Using audio and video in online training and interoffice communications is about to become a lot easier within Notes/Domino workgroups. You’ll soon be able to install on top of your existing Notes/Domino environment a combination of server software and user applications from RealNetworks that will allow departments to record and embed streaming audio and video clips into documents, e-mail messages, Web pages, and even Notes discussion threads.

Domino, Lotus has announced, will come bundled with the RealServer G2 Workgroup Edition beginning early this year. Integrated into the Notes client will be RealProducer and RealPlayer—software for creating streaming media and playing it back on either the client or a Web browser. The whole package is referred to as RealSystem G2, which you’ll initially install on top of existing clients and servers (version 4.6.4 or 5). Later versions of Notes and Domino will include the streaming media software as standard fare.

Until now, Notes users have been able to work with standard audio (.wav) and video (.avi) files, which have to be downloaded onto the desktop before they can be played. Unfortunately, a five-minute clip can take 25 minutes to download, tying up tens of megabytes on your disk. And unless you have a good network connection and lots of processing power, playback is also often unbearably jerky.

With streaming media, you avoid these problems because the clip plays directly from a server. You don’t have to wait for a huge file to download. Nor must you allocate gobs of disk space or worry about the media’s length or size. Instead, the server sends the clip as IP packets over the Internet, and you watch and listen to the clip as it arrives. In the Lotus implementation, moreover, special software makes sure that good quality audio and video arrives in a smooth, continuous stream, even if you don’t have the fastest processor or network connection.

Streaming media has already caught on in big corporations. Boeing, Novell, Merrill Lynch, and Nortel Networks are all RealNetworks customers who use streaming media for company-wide executive announcements, in employee training, to get product updates to the salesforce, and for other industry-specific needs. These companies already have intranets in place that reach all their employees, and adding audio and video to existing Web pages is a fast and inexpensive way to reach this same audience with sound and motion.

Now this power will be easily available to the individual workgroup. As of this writing, some details of the integration are still being worked out, but here’s a look at how it will probably work.

Using Media in Daily Communications

Let’s say you want to annotate a Notes document you’re reviewing with spoken commentary. You fire up a multimedia-enabled PC, which should have a microphone and perhaps a video capture device as well. Then from the Notes client, you open a wizard that shows you how to record your comments and embed them in the document.

The wizard, which is based on RealNetwork’s RealProducer application, encodes your audio as a streaming RealAudio file and store it on a department server. In the document, the wizard inserts a visual representation of the clip that contains a pointer to the actual audio file on the server. The wizard makes this whole process especially easy by walking you through all decisions, such as whether to record a new file or use an existing one, where in your document or Web page to insert the pointer, and how to upload the media file to the server.

You return the document to its author, for example, in an e-mail or by posting it to a discussion database. The author double-clicks the embedded pointer to open the RealPlayer window and begin prompt playback of your comments, which are streamed directly from the department’s RealSystem G2 server. The author can record his or her own responses to your comments, and then send the document back to you or to others in the group.

You can also embed streaming media files into Web pages on the department intranet; people using a browser instead of the Notes client can also use RealPlayer to play back the clips. Plus you can embed links within a video, for example, so that clicking at a particular point during video playback opens another document or Web page.

Good Quality Playback Over Any Connection

How well a streaming media clip plays on your computer has traditionally depended heavily on your computer’s processing power and the bandwidth, or speed, of your network connection. A video streamed to your average home PC over a modem most likely plays back with more jerks and fuzzier images than if you were viewing that same movie on a professional video workstation over your company’s T1 line.

With RealSystem G2, however, you can get by with a 28.8 Kbps modem and 120 MHz Pentium (although RealNetworks recommends 166 MHz or faster for optimal quality). So home users and small businesses who can’t afford monthly payments for an ISDN or T1 line, or to upgrade to every new processor chip that comes along, can still enjoy reasonably good playback.

One reason for this is a new RealNetworks technology called SureStream, which dynamically adjusts the media stream during playback to accommodate your connection’s bandwidth, optimizing it on the fly to play smoothly no matter how slow or congested your connection.

The RealSystem server also includes Intel’s Streaming Web Video technology, which optimizes audiovisual quality based on your processing power. As a result, you should get an 80 percent improvement in frequency response over previous streaming delivery systems, which means smoother motion and sharper, clearer images. You can also get stereo and near-CD quality sound, even over a 28.8 Kbps modem.

IBM HotMedia Connect is middleware that sits between Lotus and RealNetworks technologies on both the client and server sides. Its job is to make sure that streaming media files seem like just another component of the Notes/Domino environment.
HotMedia Connect Glues It All Together

To the user, streaming media files are just another part of the Notes/Domino environment. Not only do you create and view your clips from the Notes client, but you can take advantage of all the power of Domino to manage them—storing media files in databases, indexing them for searches, sharing and replicating them, regulating who can access them, and so on.

System administrators similarly manage the RealSystem G2 and Domino servers through a single interface.

Close integration of two servers, each performing specialized tasks, lets users treat streaming media files like any other Domino asset. System administrators can manage it all from a single user interface.
What’s going on behind the scenes, however, is the close integration of two distinct technologies that work in tandem to perform specialized tasks. On the client side, RealPlayer and RealProducer create and play back media files. In the meantime, the Notes client provides access to those files as well as to all your data and other applications. On the server side, the RealSystem G2 server is the bit pump that streams media over the intranet, recovering lost packets, adjusting for bandwidth, and otherwise making sure the media arrives in a smooth, continuous stream. Meanwhile, the Domino server performs its usual file management, replication, collaboration, and security tasks.

What makes the disparate parts of the system work as one is a technology from IBM called HotMedia Connect, which is also part of the Lotus bundle. HotMedia Connect is middleware software, which in this case means it sits between the Lotus and RealNetworks parts of the system. It moves files between Domino and RealSystem servers, maintaining links between pointers and their associated media clips, rerouting these links after replication so pointers refer to the appropriate server, and otherwise making sure things run smoothly.

Streaming Media Standards

The RealSystem G2 server can run on a variety of operating systems, and it supports several of the emerging media standards. These include the Real Time Streaming Protocol (RTSP), which controls the streaming media moving across the network. RealSystem also supports Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language (SMIL)—the World Wide Web Consortium recommendation for multimedia integration, timing, and layout, which can make it easier for Notes/Domino developers to add advanced functionality to their streaming media, such as streaming text and animation.

No Live Broadcasting but You Can Search the Web

Lotus and RealNetworks figure that workgroups will use streaming media mostly for training and prerecorded communications. Their integrated software therefore won’t include live broadcasting, which is available in the RealSystem G2 Enterprise Edition. As a result, you won’t be able to air live broadcasts of department meetings or to use a hidden video camera to discover who’s pilfering lunches from the staff refrigerator. But you and your coworkers will be able to enjoy the estimated 300,000 hours of live RealAudio and RealVideo programming that’s available each week on the Internet. Indeed, you can even use RealPlayer to search the Web for your favorite topics.

Cristine Banfield is product manager for the enterprise products group at RealNetworks, a Seattle-based producer of streaming media products and services for the Internet and corporate intranets. She has an MBA from the Harvard Business School. E-mail: cbanfield@real.com.
HELEN CASABONA is a Group Computing senior editor.


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