Multimedia on the Web
Today's Web presents a diversified multimedia experience. In fact, the Web has become a broadcast medium, offering live TV and radio, pre-recorded video, photos, images, and animations. Expect to encounter multimedia just about anywhere on the Web. This tutorial presents a brief overview.
Plugins, media players, and multimedia types
plugins and media players are software programs that allow you to experience multimedia on the Web. These terms are sometimes used interchangeably. File formats requiring this software are known as MIME types. MIME stands for Multimedia Internet Mail Extension, and was originally developed to help e-mail software handle a variety of binary (non-textual) file attachments such as photos. The use of MIME has expanded to the Web. For example, the basic MIME type handled by Web browsers is text/html associated with the file extention .html. MIME types area also used to process multimedia on the Web. A few examples:
- Jpeg photo: image/jpeg
- MPEG video: video/mpeg
- Quicktime movie: video/quicktime
- MP3 audio: audio/x-mpeg-3
- Flash presentation: application/x-shockwave-flash
Nowadays, many personal computers come pre-loaded with plugins and media players. This is an acknowledgement of the importance of the Web multimedia experience. If your computer doesn't have a particular piece of software, it can be easily obtained from the website of the company that created it. Downloading is easy and instructions are usually provided.
plugins are software programs that work with your Web browser to display multimedia. When your browser encounters a multimedia file, it hands off the data to the plugin to play or display the file. Working in conjunction with plugins, browsers can offer a seamless multimedia experience. The plugins needed to experience Web multimedia are available for free.
A common plugin used on the Web is the Adobe Reader. This software allows you to view documents created in Adobe's Portable Document Format (PDF). These documents are the MIME type "application/pdf" and are associated with the file extension .pdf. A PDF is a type of image file. When the Adobe Reader has been downloaded to your computer, the software will open and display the file when you click on its link on a Web page. Try viewing this PDF document from the U. S. Census Bureau. Sometimes a Web page will display the official PDF icon to alert you that the file is in PDF format.
media players are software programs that can play audio and video files, both on and off the Web. The concept of streaming media is important to understanding how media can be delivered on the Web. With streaming technology, audio or video files are played as they are downloading, or streaming, into your computer. Sometimes a small wait, called buffering, is necessary before the file begins to play. Extensive pre-recorded files such as interviews, lectures, televised video clips, podcasts, and music work very well with these players. They can also be used for real-time radio and TV, including Web-only TV. Popular media players include the Windows Media Player, RealPlayer, QuickTime Player, and Flash Player.
Audio files, including music, are an important part of the Web experience. Listening to music on the Web is a popular pastime. Audio files of many types are supported by the Web with the appropriate players. The MP3 file format probably the most popular option for audio files.
MP3 files are also the source of podcasts. These are audio files distributed through RSS feeds, though the term is sometimes also used to describe video programming (or vodcast). You can subscribe to a podcast's RSS feed, and listen to the podcast series, with a special type of player called a podcatcher. A podcatcher can be either available on the Web or downloaded to your computer like any other plugin. iTunes can serve as a podcatcher. Keep in mind that you can often listen to a podcast on the originating site. For an example, visit NYTimes.com Podcasts.
Want to create your own podcast? Fondren Library at Rice University offers useful instructions in their tutorial Podcasting Howtos.
tip! Podcast series are available via RSS feed. To learn about RSS, visit the tutorial RSS Basics.
Thousands of radio stations broadcast live on the Web. Just use a search engine to locate a station's website, and follow the links to the live broadcast. Visit this page for an example of one radio station's live broadcasts.
Streaming video is the backbone of live and pre-recorded broadcasting on the Web. YouTube is one of the most popular sites on the Web for pre-recorded video. Real-time professional or personal broadcasts are also very popular.
The Web is a medium for exchanging information among professionals. A live professional broadcast from a conference, company, or institution is sometimes referred to as a webcast. A variation on this is a webinar, a seminar broadcast on the Web.
To watch video discussions by experts in their fields, take a look at:
- Academic Earth, a collection of free video lectures by top scholars
- BigThink, where experts discuss current events
- Bloggingheads.tv, where academics, journalists, and others have two-way conversations, or diavlogs, on substantive topics
- Hulu, a site offering TV broadcasts and movies
- iTunes U, which offers free lectures from a handful of universities
- WebMedia: Special Events at Princeton University, offering archived speeches and conferences
live cams and live tv are a part of the real-time video experience available on the Web. Live cams are video cameras that send their data in real time to a Web server. These cams may appear in all kinds of locations, both serious and whimsical: an office, on top of a building, a scenic locale, a special event, a fish tank, and so on. Live cams are stationary and only broadcast what is in their line of sight. Moving video takes live broadcasting to the next level: TV on the Web. Some people wear portable cameras and allow the public to observe their lives - an intense form of reality TV. Justin.tv was a pioneer in this type of live broadcasting. Other people broadcast their involvement in specific topics, such as cooking or technology. Check out Blip.tv and Ustream for examples.
Live TV broadcasts abound on the Web. As with radio stations mentioned above, use a search engine to locate a station's website and follow the links to the live broadcast. There are also plenty of pre-recorded network TV shows available on the Web. Check out Hulu for an example of a site that hosts this type of content.
Photos may seem like old hat, but the Web has found interesting ways of presenting them. Most major search engines have an option for searching for photos. This is usually combined with a search for non-photographic images along with photos, and is therefore called an image search. Google Image Search is a good example. There are also search engines dedicated to image searching, for example Picsearch.
The social Web has come up with innovative ideas for photo sharing. Check out Flickr and Pinterest for examples of different ways in which you can use the social Web to display and share your photos - and also to view, share and comment on the photos of others.
As you browse the Web, you can experience multimedia on the sites of the people who sponsor or create the broadcasts. There are also aggregator sites you can visit, including Flickr and YouTube.
It's also possible to embed multimedia on your own Web pages. The capacity for unlimited distribution is a major reason why multimedia on the Web has become so popular. Also, it's easy to do. In most cases, embedding a media file is just a matter of copying code and pasting it onto your Web page. The two examples below took only a few minutes to complete. Both require the Flash player (MIME type of application/x-shockwave-flash).
Here is an embedded video from YouTube.
Here is a Picasa slideshow from my 2008 high school reunion. You might enjoy looking at my photos of the historic Emma Willard School in Troy, NY.
tip! The phenomenon of embedded media is related to the concept of widgets. A widget is a snippet of a program running on another site that can be embedded on your own Web page. Check out Widgetbox to get an idea of some widgets you might want to try.