April 27, 2001

Open Source MPEG player means no software download necessary

Author: JT Smith

- by Tina Gasperson -

SurePlayer.org has released a GPLed MPG-1 encoder that makes it possible for end users to play videos in their browser, and could make software products like Real Player or Quicktime obsolete.
The code necessary to create these "progressive streaming" files is located at www.sureplayer.org. But if all you want to do is watch videos online, there's no need to bother with the source code or even the compiled Java applet. All you have to do is click and watch.

SurePlayer.org spokesman Mark Anderson says that streaming video with no player required is a new concept. Real and Quicktime have fooled computer users into believing that they have to have this proprietary software in order to view MPGs. But the http protocol is capable of progressive streaming, and that is the way SurePlayer works within browsers and email programs to deliver streaming video and audio.

Anderson likens the situation to network television, with Real, Quicktime, and Media Player being the ABC, NBC, and CBS of the media player world. "We're an independent station," and that freedom makes it possible for those who want to stream video to an Internet audience to do so very inexpensively. Fees can be high for a server license from Real, says Anderson, Indeed, a price check on at the
RealNetworks
site shows a Streaming Media Starter Kit listed at $2,999.

Because no one company has control of SurePlayer, and the license is free, it greatly widens the window of opportunity for would-be Internet broadcasters. In fact, it makes SurePlayer more like public access television, to extend Anderson's analogy, in that anyone who has the desire to create streaming video and display it now has the ability to do so for free.
In fact, the site has posted a short tutorial with links to additional information, to get video-streaming wannabes started in their quests.

The SurePlayer project is sponsored by BYOBroadcast, an "application service provider" marketing a variety of products that audio-enable websites through technology similar to SurePlayer.

Anderson says that they have the SurePlayer MPG technology working in about 90% of browsers, including Microsoft's Internet Explorer for Windows and Macintosh -- and if SurePlayer technology becomes widely used, that could put some pressure on Real and Windows Media. "We're shooting for at least 96% of the browser matrix," he says. The SurePlayer has its roots in Europe. "A German doctor [Dr. Jorg Anders] wrote this open source video player, and a German author [Tobias Bading] wrote a [GPL'ed] audio player. We married the two" to come up with SurePlayer.

Up until this release, the project has had only three coders working on it. Anderson says that SurePlayer hopes more developers will come on board to help the core team work out bugs and push for improvements. For instance, the streaming video works on Netscape 4.7x for Linux, but the audio does not, because 4.7x versions don't support Sun's AudioPlayer interface.

Java is required for SurePlayer to work. NewsForge also tested the SurePlayer demos on Konqueror 1.9.8 and Opera 5.0b8 in Linux, and Explorer and Netscape on a Mac, with less than satisfactory results. Linux users should download and install Netscape 6 in order to stream MPGs delivered via SurePlayer.

There's a display of all known bugs at http://www.sureplayer.org/matrix.html. Bug reports should be sent to help@sureplayer.org. Code poets who want to get involved with this project should send email to webmaster@sureplayer.org.

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