Buckle Up for Your Broadband Tour

Wherever they are, how are you going to make the most out of them?

Most of the content requires either Microsoft's Windows Media Player or RealNetworks' RealPlayer G2. It's a good idea to download the latest version of both apps: Web media files are usually listed in both formats at 56 kbps, but sometimes there's only one available broadband link at 300 kbps.

You'll also want the latest versions of Macromedia's Flash and Shockwave animation plug-ins, and maybe Liquid Audio's Liquid Player for streaming music. (As always when downloading free beta plug-ins, beware. A beta of Liquid Player froze up my computer and I had to reenter in Safe mode to remove it.) Beyond those basic tools, you can try many more plug-ins available for video, videoconferencing, animation, music, and 3D navigation. Although Windows Media Player offers MPEG support, you'll want to have Apple's QuickTime for high-quality and full-length video viewing. Then, of course, there's the whole universe of MP3 apps.

If you have a slower connection of 128 to 256 kbps, you may want to limit yourself to music and animation. Streaming music sounds fine at 128 kbps, and now, rather than pop an audio CD into my drive, I'm more inclined to turn to an Internet radio network such as Live365.com. It doesn't sound quite as nice, but it offers more variety.

When it comes to video, the only time I'd watch anything encoded at less than 300 kbps is if it were absolutely necessary. A nicely encoded 200- or even 128-kbps clip could give you a happy surprise, but generally such slower files are reminiscent of early CD-ROM video.

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