Next: smaller, faster, wireless streaming media

Microsoft is showing the beta of Windows Media Audio and Video 8, unveiled by Steve Ballmer, president and chief executive officer. From the content creation standpoint, the most important development in the format is improved compression. The lossy compression used in Windows Media (and most other audio and video formats) trades off file size for quality.

Windows Media 8 will produce files of "near CD" quality at just 48kbps, Ballmer said. Comparatively, the same quality would have required a 64kbps file with Windows Media 7 and a 128kbps MP3 file. The video compression improves from about 700 kbps for near-DVD quality to just 500 kbps. Ballmer said a final version should be ready when Whistler ships late next year.

Getting real

Not to be outdone, RealNetworks, Microsoft's fiercest competitor in the streaming realm, has trotted out its new RealSystem IQ. Whereas Microsoft concentrates on file size, Real's new product focuses on how the stream gets to you. RealSystem creates a network that distributes the server's load and responsibility throughout the network, which should help improve many of the problems that now plague streaming, primarily broken streams from overtaxed servers.

While Real and Microsoft are holding court at the show, several smaller companies are showing products that could have an impact on your stream quality as well.

One big focus for companies big and small is how to get streaming content to wireless devices. The problem lies in the limited bandwidth available to phones and personal digital assistants, which now maxes out about 19.2 kbps. Several companies have ideas about how to solve the problem.

A handful of upstarts are experimenting with ways to shrink or better manage the data stream of audio and video files. They're hitting new levels of efficiency and transmission speeds, and offer a preview of the kind of quality and speeds we'd all like to take for granted.

Innovations from the little guys

PacketVideo uses a proprietary encoder to shrink MPEG-1 and .wav files so that they can stream at data rates from 384 kbps to just 9.6 kbps -- small enough to work over today's wireless networks. Of course, you sacrifice a great deal of image size, frame rate, and quality at the low end of the scale. But within a few years, you should see 100-kbps wireless access, which will let you view a decent-quality video stream through the PacketVideo technology.

Another company,, is announcing a new wireless streaming-audio plan. Previously an Internet radio site, the new free wireless service streams the same content to your wireless device with sound quality comparable to 128-kbps MP3, which is near-CD quality.

To get that kind of quality, the company fudges the concept of streaming a bit with a multistep process that requires a PC and a memory cache. When you log on to the site with your PC, you download the metadata of the file, which constitutes a majority of the file's size. You then synch your mobile device with your PC. The cached data transfers to the device's memory (you'll get about a half hour of music with 16MB of storage). Then, your wireless device contacts the company's servers, and the remainder of the file, just a 1-kbps stream, activates the song.

File-squeezing improves

Other companies are working on improving the compression quality of files so that you can get more for less. A big movement here is getting video-on-demand streams to your TV, which will allow you to skip the video rental store and use the Net instead to watch any movie you want.

Streambox TV is developing a video-compression technology that reduces a 6MB file to 1.2MB with little visible quality loss. The technology will be used in set-top boxes.

And DiamondBack Vision is showing its new ObjectVideo compression software, now in beta. This compression scheme is designed to improve slower streams -- around 56 kbps -- by isolating moving objects. The more movement in a frame, the more blocks and artifacts appear after compression. ObjectVideo can isolate the objects moving against a background and apply different compressions to them, making the image look better and reducing the overall file size.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Michael Gowan

PC World
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?