Streaming media makes the Web come alive with audio, video, and animation. Unlike download-oriented technologies such as MP3, streaming gives near-immediate gratification: click on a link, and you're listening or watching within seconds. RealNetworks' RealSystem, which incorporates the company's RealAudio and RealVideo technologies, has long been the most popular streaming platform; RealSystem G2, introduced last year, improves playback quality and authoring options.
To create RealSystem G2 content, you need RealNetworks' new RealProducer Plus G2; to tune in to RealSystem G2 or 5.0 content, there's RealPlayer Plus G2. (Both are available in free versions as well.) Unfortunately, RealProducer falls short of its Windows counterpart in key areas, while RealPlayer is buggy and has stiff hardware requirements (see the accompanying review ).
To encode QuickTime movies and audio files in RealSystem G2 format, you simply drag a source file into RealProducer Plus G2's window and specify your encoding settings. RealProducer Plus G2 supports RealSystem G2's SureStream technology, which dynamically adjusts a clip's playback quality based on network conditions and enables a single RealSystem G2 file to accommodate multiple connection speeds.
RealProducer's cropping feature removes extraneous portions of a video clip. The program can also create a bare-bones HTML page containing the tags necessary to call up a clip and, if you have an FTP program, can transfer an encoded clip to your ISP. These basics aside, RealProducer Plus G2 can't match the broad array of quality-optimizing options in Media 100's $499 Media Cleaner Pro 4.
A key feature missing from RealProducer Plus G2 is support for live encodingthe ability to encode a RealAudio or RealVideo clip in real time from audio and video devices connected to a Mac. RealNetworks says it may add live encoding to a future version; for now, producers needing to produce or archive live Webcasts must use the company's Windows- or Unix-based tools.
RealSystem G2 supports Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language (SMIL), which combines audio, video, images, and text into time-synchronized presentations with Web links, scrolling text, and visual effects. Like its Windows counterpart, RealProducer Plus G2 lacks features for creating SMIL presentations. The $500, Windows-only RealProducer Pro G2 offers basic SMIL authoring, but for now the best way to write sophisticated SMIL is to hand-peck its tags into a text editor. RealProducer Pro G2 also lets you encode an entire collection of files in one fell swoop; RealProducer Plus G2 lacks batch-encoding features.
RealProducer Plus G2 is an ideal encoding tool for anyone who occasionally produces RealSystem G2 content. But the program's lack of live- and batch-encoding features make it a second-best choice for streaming professionals. For batch encoding, Media Cleaner Pro 4 and the Windows-based RealProducer Pro G2 are better options; for live encoding, turn to RealNetworks' Windows- or Unix-based tools.
RATING: PROS: Easy to use; very good results. CONS: No live encoding or batch processing. COMPANY: RealNetworks (800/632-8920, http://www.real.com ). LIST PRICE: $150.
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