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Re: [ARSCLIST] streaming vs. downloading (was Try Real Alternative)


I think that offering downloads on your site would be a great thing, but you are right you would need to consider the bandwidth costs before doing so. Our download to stream ratio is about 7/1. I don't see the bandwidth bills (thankfully, as people suck down about 750GB/month), but your bandwidth usage would go up by a non-trivial amount if you offered downloads.

Offering both downloads and streaming is a bit like running a record store where you have two sections. One section would be marked "take home for free" and the other would be "feel free to listen in the store." You can imagine that the free bin would soon be empty and the other bin would see occasional use. Personally, I like streaming things to audition them, but my feeling is that people really like the sense of ownership that comes with downloading and having their own copy of something for their collection, even if they never get around to listening to it.

That being said, offering .ra downloads is not the answer. The defacto standard for downloadable audio is mp3, and if you think you get angry letters now about .ra, just wait until .ra is your download format! In our listening tests we found that mp3 compression had by far the best sound quality for early audio with pops and crackle. For 78s you can use a pretty low bit rate (as low as 56 kbit/sec and still preserve the quality of the original) to limit your bandwidth costs. I get nasty emails all the time about QuickTime and I sympathize with people that don't like it, but the streaming formats all have advantages and disadvantages (some greater than others) that we have little control over.

David Seubert

Dismuke wrote:
--- Don Cox <doncox@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx> wrote:

To avoid a serious loss of quality, you would have
to encode the MP3s
from your original WAV files, not convert from an
already lossy version.

Unfortunately, with the oldest Real Audio files on the site, there are no original .wav files.

Back when I started the site, my computer had a 1.2
gig hard drive. When I got it I was quite proud
because all my friends with computers had hard drives
less than a gig. 1.2 gig doesn't store very many .wav
files. And for saving data to something other than
my hard drive - well, I had a floppy disc drive. Can't get much of a .wav file on a floppy. CD burners?
I am not even sure if they were around then - and
when they did start to become available, they were
expensive. Back then, I recorded the files directly
to .ra format using my sound card. Later, when I got
a 13 gig slave drive, I wondered how on earth I would
ever fill the thing up. In fact, I was not really
even able to rip CDs on that computer. The processing
speed was so slow that it actually was faster for me
to use MusicMatch to record a CD track to mp3 in "real
time" than it was for the processor to do what was
necessary to "rip."

That's one of the reasons why re-recording all of the
older files on the site occupies a much higher place
on my "want to do when I have some time" list than
changing file formats for the sake of changing file

There will certainly be ways of batch converting
WAVs to MP3, using Lame
probably, as people do this all the time for their
MP3 players.

I have had horrible luck using lame to convert .mp3s
and .wavs down to dial up friendly bit rates. Maybe I
wasn't using it correctly or something. But I have
had great luck with MusicMatch.

It would be better to add MP3 downloads, while
leaving the Real files
for those who want streaming.

Actually, you gave me an idea there. But, if I do it,
it would be the exact reverse of your suggestion: the
mp3 files would stream and if any download is offered
at all the download would be in Real Audio format.

The only reason I ever added a download link to my
Real Audio files in the first place was because when I
started out, bandwidth was MUCH more expensive than it
is today and the montly transfer limitations which
came with web hosting accounts were much less generous
than they are today. After I started the site,
people would write and tell me how they would spend
hours listening to the songs over and over again. I
was very concerned that such users would throw me
above my transfer limits so I encouraged those people
to download the .ra file to their hard drive and
listen that way to free up the bandwidth for others.

Today, bandwith quotas are so large I can't see ever
exceeding them. If everyone in the world suddenly
accessed my site, I would be in trouble with my
hosting service over my CPU usage long before I be in
danger of exceeding my transfer alotment.

So, if I start using mp3 format, what I would do is
use a shoutcast server to stream the files. I would
just set up a shoutcast server and upload my mp3 files
to its content directory and link directly to the
files using a .pls extension. That would cause the
individual files to stream in any mp3 player in the
same way that Radio Dismuke and other Internet
stations do. But visitors would not be able to
download the mp3 files themselves to their hard drive.
That would also save me effort from having to type
the .ram files that I currently do to make Real Audio
stream and I wouldn't have to mess with doing the same
for .m3u files. And, since Real Player users can
listen to mp3 streams their player and since my
bandwidth with a shoutcast server would be measured
not in terms of transfer but in terms of how many
potential simutaneous users I wished to pay to
accomodate, I see no real reason to offer a download
file at all. And if I did offer a download, I really
am not at all sure I would want to have it in mp3
format. Loading up people's ipods for free is not
really what the site is about. And making a Real
Audio download available in addition to the .mp3
shoutcast stream would mean extra work for me. Since
the elimination of extra work is actually one of the
reasons I might actually consider going the shoutcast
route, that gives me all the more reason not to offer
a download.

If I did that, it certainly would set to rest the
expressed concerns that Real Player haters have
stated.  But guess what?  If I ever decide to do that,
I would have to brace myself for what I expect would
be a significant number of emails from people upset
over the change and begging me to at least bring the
Real Audio download back.  I PROMISE you that the
number of such emails would VASTLY exceed the number
of emails I have received over the years from people
who do not care for Real Audio format for one reason
or another.   The redhotjazz.com site streams its Real
Audio files through the Real Audio equivelent of a
shoutcast server and I actually get emails
occasionally from people asking me for tech support on
how they can download the Real Audio files from Red
Hot Jazz (why they write me and not Red Hot Jazz to
learn that they can't, I don't know). If people could
no longer download at least Real Audio files from my
site - well, trust me, I would hear about it.

My wider point on the format issue is this: while I
certainly enjoy having an audience and enjoy knowing
when my listeners have an enjoyable experience, since
I am providing a free service and am doing so with
extremely limited resources both financially and in
terms of my available time, a major consideration in
ANY decision I make necessarily MUST take into
consideration MY convenience, not just that of the
listeners. And that is not just true of my online
endeavors, it is true with ANY "labor of love"
project. Rarely do such projects have all the
resources available that those responsible for them
would like to have - so it is necessary for certain
decisions and priorities to be made. And that is one
of the reasons why other people's websites are not
always the way we would like for them to be. And that
- not a devious desire to sanction "spyware" - is
likely to be a major reason why many non-commercial
websites continue to stick with the format.

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