Friday, October 22, 2004

Online Audio and Video Resource

by Rick Hendershotfrom

For years, would-be internet prophets have been predicting that the web would be revolutionized by audio and video content. For a variety of reasons this has just not happened. There's something about the way the web has developed that is just not "rich media" friendly.

Nevertheless, I still think there are fantastic opportunities to put audio and video to work for online marketers. Not just for promoting products either. These techniques are ideal for supporting event and trade show marketing.

In all the years I have been playing around with online audio and video, I have always been unhappy with the mainstream alternatives — Windows Media, Real, and Quicktime. Without a doubt these are three sophisticated alternatives. But at different times and for different reasons they all appear to be going nowhere.

From the perspective of the "developer" or "publisher" of online content, having to worry about three competing audio and video formats is a complete and very distracting waste of time. What a pain having to encode for different players — and then trying to get those players to work. It is no wonder that rich media has been stalled for the last three years or so.

The "Flash" alternative

Flash was originally developed as an animation tool, but very early in its development (by 1996) it turned into a "complete multimedia development environment". This accounts for the schizophrenic relationship webmasters have with flash. Creating original flash productions with a tool like Flash MX is much too difficult for your average webmaster. But completed Flash "movies" are easy to work with. You can just plug them into your website. And if you're handed an already functioning flash module that you can use to do a limited range of things -- like show a movie, play an audio track, create some simple animated type -- then it is a wonderful tool.

About a year ago I stumbled onto Camtasia. TechSmith had just started including a flash encoder in their upgraded suite of screen capture tools ("Camtasia Recorder / Producer"), and I found I could create some very good looking (and sounding) software training videos by using a combination of these tools. The final step in the process involved encoding the finished .avi file as a .swf, and then embedding it in a web page. This worked like a charm, was relatively easy, and the quality was surprisingly good (here's a sample.)

But, as usual, there were some problems...

First, I didn't like Camtasia's clunky stock control buttons. TechSmith had anticipated this, and actually made a separate controller available — one with more functionality, and one that looks much better (see the sample.) But to add it to your flash movie you had to do some work in Flash MX.

If you happen to own Flash MX — it is ridiculously expensive — you probably agree with me that it succeeds in making even simple little tasks like this painfully difficult. No problem. I learned enough of Flash to get by, and was able to crank out quite a few demo training sessions.

Second problem: the Camtasia system is based on screen captures and uses a special codec that gives you incredibly crisp images at very low frame rate (usually about 5 fps). This is good for screen captures (software tutorials), but no good for regular videos that have much more motion, and a higher frame rate. Using the Camtasia tools to encode regular video into .swf files creates files that are much too large for streaming or progressive downloads. So "real" video can't be done in Flash with this set of tools.

Curses! This means the enterprising online video guy is back to using a hodge podge of tools. Forget it!

Third problem: the Camtasia system (Producer) doesn't have enough flexibility to handle straight audio. So if you want to just take an online article and create an audio version of it, there is no easy way to do it.

Well, that's not quite correct. Creating a Flash audio controller amounts to creating a "movie" -- some buttons that control an audio source. For a while I took advantage of this to create "radio" presentations that included photos (see this example.) I actually constructed simple videos (.avi) with Ulead MediaStudioPro, and crunched them through Camtasia Producer to encode them as .swf files. But apart from the clunky work flow and mish mash of tools, Camtasia Producer simply does not (did not?) have enough audio conversion capabilities. You pretty much take what you get.

In the next couple of posts I will review the "solutions" I have (at least temporarily) settled on.

— Rick Hendershot, Real-Estate-Radio.comThis is my most recent project.


job opportunitya said...

Great blog. I'm always finding blog like yours. It
got my attention and I will go to the site again!
Want to see top notch work, peep my engine marketing search solution blog site for the bomb work!

Nj New Jersey House Cleaning said...

Exciting blog. Your site was amazing and will be
back again! I never get tired of looking for blogs
just like this one.
I can't explain, but you need to check my mlm home based business blog!