Whether you're on a fast connection or not, you can tune in to what essentially is an endless supply of Internet radio stations, audio servers and other related services - the majority of which are 100 per cent free.
WADING THROUGH THE STREAM
With so many options available, where should you begin? Your first step should be to install the latest versions of Real Audio Player, Winamp and Windows Media Player, which you can find on this month's cover CD. Most popular audio players such as Musicmatch and Winamp support streaming. With Winamp you can connect to its sister site, SHOUTcast.com, to stream MP3 radio.
Go to SHOUTcast.com with your browser and you'll find a table on the right-hand side of the main page that is titled "Limit By Bandwidth". This is useful for accessing streams that are aimed at your connection speed and helps to reduce the chance of constant dropouts in the audio stream, which can get quite annoying. Once you've selected your Bandwidth type - and, if you like, chosen a genre of music - click on the Search button.
You'll now see a list of stations or servers that meet your requirements. Scroll down and you'll be able to see the name of the station, what type of music it plays and what song is currently playing.
Once you've found one that interests you, simply click the Tune-In button that corresponds with your chosen station. Winamp should now automatically open and begin preparing (buffering) the stream. If you see a dialogue box asking you to save to disk or open from existing location, select Open from existing location and Winamp should begin its preparations. When pre-buffering has reached 100 per cent, you'll hear audio - you're now streaming from the net!
It's really that easy, and the ability to search by keyword or by genre makes things even easier. Should you hear of another audio stream that takes your fancy, chances are that you can use Winamp for that, too. In Winamp's main control window, press
RealPlayer is probably the more famous of the streaming applications going around, and a great deal of streaming content, both audio and visual, can be found at www.real.com. If you've noticed files with the extension .rm or .ram floating about on your computer, these are RealAudio files. Here's something to try. Launch RealPlayer (normally a blue speech bubble icon with a play button icon, found in your System Tray near the clock). You are able to access radio stations from RealPlayer's pull down menu titled Presets (older versions of RealPlayer may have a pull down menu titled Radio). RealPlayer is required by many Internet sites that stream audio, as it is a popular player and has good compression quality. It uses a variation on ATRAC-3, which is a compression system Sony uses in its MiniDisc digital player/recorders.
Other notable streaming file formats include Liquid Audio used by sites like Chaos Music, and Microsoft's .asx format. Programs such as Total Recorder (www.highcriteria.com), can even capture an audio stream to a .wav file.
Locally, Microsoft's .asx streaming technology is used by radio stations such as Triple J to produce live webcasts. Another Internet radio site supporting .asx streaming is www.live365.com, which suggests you use its own player that is freely available to download but also supports RealPlayer and Winamp or MP3 streaming. This flexibility, plus its 30,000 radio streams that are on air 24 hours a day, make live365 one of the most popular Internet radio sites in the world. Spinner.com is a similar site which uses its own proprietary player that you must download before accessing its 150 music stations organised by genre.
Both SHOUTcast.com and 365.com allow you to create your own audio stream for other people to listen to - be it music or just plain chat. The latter even gives 365MB of disk space free to individuals for this purpose. This is relatively easy to do, so check out next month's PC World for comprehensive instructions.
Access 30,000 radio stations 24/7
Winamp's sister site for streaming MP3 radio
150 music stations organised by genre
Can stream news and even the youth network JJJ. Live!
Air traffic control conversations from Bankstown airport
120 channels of music
Links and lists of Australian radio stations that stream on the Internet
interFACE Pirate Radio London. Listen, view and chat to international DJs and other listeners