April 26, 1999 -- Newsletter #25

By Joe Burns


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April 26, 1999 -- Newsletter #25
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Greetings, Weekend Silicon Warriors...

Again, I have to stop and thank you all for the e-mail I received regarding Newsletter 24 (re: my OpEd being printed to the Web). I'm sorry I wasn't able to answer many of them, however I did read them. I was away in Las Vegas and am just now finding time to write the newsletter for this week. My editor at EarthWeb, Lindy, is a stickler for deadlines.

Did you see that Yahoo! Magazine came out with their top 100 most wired colleges and universities? Congratulations to Case Western Reserve for topping the list! The rest of the top five were MIT, Wake Forest, New Jersey Institute of Technology, and Rensselaer Polytechnic.


Ah, Vegas. The concept of that town just amazes me. We come, we eat, we leave a lot of money behind, we leave. It's so simple a concept. Bugsy was right on target with this idea. My wife and I stayed at a brand new hotel called The Bellagio. What a place. Miles of water and meticulously kept greenery. I was told that the hotel cost 1.6 billion to build and that the owner paid for it with cash.

If so, he's $100 lighter thanks to me. I never gamble. I'm just flat out bad at it. I never win and am smart enough to know that putting $20 on a roulette table is like lighting it on fire. But this time was different. My wife had to step into the ladies room for a short while and I was left surrounded by the ring of the one-armed bandits. I caved. I had a fresh one-dollar bill in my shirt pocket so I shoved it in and pulled the handle.


I won $100! My wife returned to the constant sound of dollar coins plopping into the metal tub below the slot machine. What a glorious mechanical sound! We saw the show and then went to dinner at a very expensive steak house. My steak alone was $24, but it was the best I've ever been served. The fact that it was free made it all the more tasty.

But what does Las Vegas have to do with Goodies and the Web? Well, the reason I went there in the first place was to attend the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) yearly conference. This is the time when anyone who's anyone in broadcasting sets up a booth and attempts to sell the latest and greatest in broadcasting equipment and theory. It is a completely unbelievable sight. The booths go on for miles and the flash and glitz is almost unbearable.

So where is broadcasting going? Well, first off it's blatantly obvious that broadcasters want to go digital. They want to broadcast, tape, and edit literally everything by computer. Videotape is going to way of the dinosaur. I saw at least 20 different programs that were created to edit videotape. I know 15 of them will fail. That's the way it always goes. When an idea gets hot, the world puts out product. Businesses buy them and somewhere in the mesh a winner or two is declared. The also-rans are left with a lot of unsold boxes.

Digital broadcasting was also a hot topic. I got to see HDTV for the first time. I saw flat screens that had the definition of 35mm photos. It looked like you could reach your hands inside of the picture. You'll never believe how great the images were until you see it for yourself.

I watched a television studio being created out of whole cloth. The anchor stood in a three-walled room that was totally blue. The lighting was set so that there were almost no shadows. Some of you might already understand the concept of chroma-key. That's when you take a blue (or green) background and "replace" it with another image. It's done all the time in TV weather forecasts, but this went a step further. The anchor was standing in a blue room, yet on camera he was in a fully functioning TV studio with people in the background and carpet on the floor. When he walked, shadows were thrown by his feet and you actually saw his shoes sink into the carpet. When he talked about the five-day weather forecast -- pillars came up and out of the floor and he walked between and around them. You had to stop and look back at the blue room to be sure you saw what you just saw.

I worked with a digital camera that created real-time 3D effects. The camera could create depth and within that depth create effects that appeared to move within the picture, like a butterfly that appeared to fly past the announcer's head and back into the screen. It looked like you could reach into the screen and touch things that were behind the announcer.

There were companies that offered multiple methods of getting radio air signals to the Web. I worked radio for 11 years before going back to school for my Ph.D. In my time in radio, I made the decision that the best station in the U.S. was 102.5 WDVE in Pittsburgh. You may not agree. Right now I can listen to the DVE and a multitude of other stations anywhere in the world as long as I have a connection to the Web. And the sound was phenomenal. The compression ratios allowed for immediate streaming and CD quality sound. Granted, the display had very expensive speakers running off of the sound card, but I could see myself listening with what I have.

Up until this point, everything that I have been talking about is in practice. Formats are getting to the point where standards can be granted. What is not yet written in stone is broadcasting television over the Web.

In what was either a scheduling joke or a colossal blunder, the booth for Microsoft "Windows Media" streaming video was right across the corridor from the booth.

"The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" screamed the sign.

"Why Wait?" blared the signs above the "Windows Media" booth.

I stayed in that little area for a good hour talking with the presenters. One actually knew the Goodies site! I was in ego heaven.

The booth handed out key chains, buttons, and pins pushing their G2 compression format. The big push on their flyers was that you only needed three things to start streaming video:

1. The Real Player G2

2. The Real Producer G2 (the software that creates the files)

3. The RealNetworks Basic Server G2

The paperwork offered just enough information that it sounded easy enough for a home user to do. I took it that was Real's push. Anyone can do it. Even the smallest ISP could get this stuff up and running.

"Microsoft Media" was pushing their new Advanced Streaming Format (ASF). All in all, Microsoft won in the promotional battle. They likened streaming video to drinking milk right out of the carton. I know it sounds absurd, but it worked. They had a giant cut-out of a kid holding a milk carton above his head and "streaming" the milk into his mouth. The display had to be 40 feet tall and, yes, there was real milk running from the carton into the mouth. To drive home the point, the promotional giveaway was a pint milk carton with a cow sounder inside. If you turned the carton upside down and then right again... it mooed. Of course, there were the obligatory "Got ASF?" take-offs on the Got Milk? campaign.

Their big push, I took it at least, was toward bigger business and broadcast houses using this format to stream. The process worked off of the NT servers and creating the streaming format was just a simple download away, much like the pitch from the people.

So there are only two big players, right? Wrong. Just down the lane, past yonder snack bar, was They were pushing narrowcasting specific programming on the Web. Then there were a slew of companies that were offering levels of video-on-demand programs. With these systems you could request any movie or television show and it would start immediately. It looked like Spectravision for the real world.

It was an experience that only went to show me how much advancement was really going on. All of the major companies were there, but then there were the booths put together by a couple of young guys in tie-dye shirts and jeans. You just know they sunk every last nickel they had into this booth. They had a piece of software that they believed would revolutionize the world of video. I hope they make it.

Me? I'm going to take the time to read every piece of literature given to me. What I took away filled four canvas bags. (One bag is just full of pens, buttons, chocolates, and other assorted promotional items the booths were giving away: I got four of the little mooing milk cartons!)

TV on the Web is here now, but it's not yet been decided how exactly it will happen. That may take a few years. Until then, keep an eye on the technical section of your local Sunday newspaper. Hopefully you'll get a glimpse of what I saw in Vegas this past weekend.


And that's that. Thanks for reading. I sure do appreciate your taking the time.

Joe Burns, Ph.D.

And Remember: A font is considered "True Type" when the letters are created through a series of mathematical formulas rather than being a simple bitmap. The benefit? True Type fonts can be made huge and never pixelate and always print as they appear on the screen.

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