A picture of Ted Leath Ted Leath 
Room MG126 
Faculty of Informatics
University of Ulster, Magee College
Northland Road, Londonderry, Co. Londonderry 
BT48 7JL, Northern Ireland 
Email: ta.leath@ulst.ac.uk

A HyperMedia Player

Image of HyperMedia Player - Click to activate This is an example image from the proposed HyperMedia player. To try out the demo you need the latest version of Netscape's browser, RealPlayer and Shockwave plug-in.

Click on the image to begin.

What is Meant by Hypermedia?

The term "hypermedia" is a derivative of the term’s "multimedia" and "hypertext". The term "multimedia" could more appropriately be referred to as "digital multimedia". The term "media" refers to both the ways in which information is conveyed and distributed as well as to artefacts produced in a particular medium. Digital media relies on a computer for conveyance. Multimedia artefacts are ordinarily related both spatially and temporally.

As well as the spatial and temporal relationships offered through multimedia, hypermedia allows the organisation of information through linking media elements.

The HyperMedia Player

The proposed HyperMedia Player would allow users to use hypermedia packages utilising all currently available mechanisms for on-line interaction and presentation. Features would include: It is envisaged that the HyperMedia Player would initially be music oriented to take advantage of the extensive range of music content already available, and the conceptual model that many users already possess of a typical CD player interface. Several years ago, some recording artists began to release multimedia CDs which added value to existing audio material via video, images and text. This approach is restricted in several ways in comparison to the proposed Hypermedia Player:

What is Required?

With the exception of a well-developed streaming solution for MP3 audio files, all of the components for the proposed HyperMedia Player currently exist. Streaming software for MP3 is currently in its infancy, and is not nearly as well developed as other proprietary streaming solutions. Despite the current absence of mature streaming solutions, he use of MP3 on the Internet for the purposes of compressing and exchanging near CD quality audio files has increased dynamically in recent months.

MP3 and Audio Streaming

While it is proposed that the HyperMedia Player support all major streaming audio formats, special attention is to be given to MPEG’s MP3 audio compression standard.

The Moving Pictures Expert Group (MPEG) are a group that meet under the International Standards Organization (ISO) to generate standards for digital video and audio compression. The MPEG committee has chosen to recommend 3 audio compression methods. These are audio layer-1, layer-2, and layer-3. The main differences between these layers is that progressing from layer-1 to layer-3, complexity increases (mainly true for the encoder), overall codec delay increases, and performance increases (sound quality per bitrate). MPEG layer-3 audio compression is often abbreviated as MP3.

At the moment, MP3 itself is having a significant impact on the music industry, and while schemes like the Madison Project (involving a consortium of IBM and the major record labels) are planned for the on-line distribution of music files, it is really too little, too late. The Internet has become a means of disintermediation (cutting out the middleman). Here are some excerpts from recent articles on the subject:

"The music industry’s problem is the ‘MP3’ audio file format, which is capable of storing CD-quality sound compressed in 1/10th the space…While this seems like a fairly obvious technological advance, especially considering that the CD format is now 20 years old, it has the music industry up in arms…While standard uncompressed CD audio has (until recently) been protected by it’s sheer size, the MP3 is eminently portable…Unfortunately for the recording industry, they alone are harmed by this. They act as a middleman between music producers and music consumers, and both of those groups have expressed strong support for MP3 music." - Recording Industry in Denial, The Rule Maker Portfolio, The Motley Fool, March 18th, 1999

" Millions of teens and twenty-somethings…have joined the digital revolution, downloading music from the Net and skipping that trip to Tower Records, thereby saving that $16.99 they would have spent on a CD. On college campuses that offer students fast T-1 connections to the Internet, up to 75% of students are music pirates.

This is a sour note for the $12 billion-a-year music industry which is belatedly taking a long, painful look at its endangered business model. The industry is losing millions in revenue to the digital pirates, who use a readily available (and free, of course) software program called MP3 (MPEG 1 Layer 3) to receive and send music over the Internet." - You've Got Music, Business, Time Magazine, February 22nd, 1999, Vol. 153 No.7

"On Feb. 5, when the electronica group Underworld offered a free, full-length MP3 file of a track from its forthcoming CD, its Web page received 400,000 hits in one day…And last year the Artist Formerly Known as Prince…released a brilliant, ambitious five-CD boxed set titled Crystal Ball and peddled it on his website…According to his spokesperson, the set sold 250,000 copies on-line (at $50 apiece), and the Artist says 1998 was his ‘most profitable year’." - Music Without Labels, Business, Time Magazine, February 22nd, 1999, Vol. 153 No. 7

Video and Macro Streaming

It is proposed that since hypermedia links are primarily visually related, that these links be associated with the video portion of presentations prepared for the Hypermedia Player. To accommodate the greatest breadth of both compressed video and hypermedia elements, a macro streaming protocol is suggested. What is meant by a "macro streaming protocol" is a protocol which allows the inclusion of audio, video, hypermedia linking and primitive control features (sequence, decision and iteration). The simple prototype provided uses Macromedia’s Flash 3 as its macro streaming protocol, although many others exist.

Modes of Operation

The HyperMedia Player should provide for audio and video components to be delivered in either a composite or separate manner. Existing streaming audio could be supplemented by independently produced video/hypermedia links. Audio, video and links could be streamed together in a "bundled" presentation. Video/hypermedia links could also have independent, and even multiple "scores" produced.

This requires a specification of requirements for the following:

It is also proposed that programming access be given to player controls, allowing users to create and change the player’s user interface. A current example of this idea can be seen in the WinAmp MP3 player.

Examples of WinAmp "skins"

Impact and Consequences

A revolution is currently occurring in the music industry. Technology is making it possible to create, produce and distribute music of high technical quality without the studios, promotional and distribution services of the recording industry and the retail music industry. Through the Internet, geography or national boundaries no longer control the availability of radio programmes. It is likely that over time, a similar process will occur in the motion picture industry. We already are observing this to some extent already in the current popularity of "fly-on-the-wall" documentaries, and video shorts like those shown on "Video Nation".

The famous SOHONet was established in 1995, linking London’s primarily post-production audio, video and special effects media companies together via a high performance digital network. This allowed the shunting of digitised film between specialists, each making their own contribution to the finished product. Through standards specification, and the continuing emergence of new production tools and greater bandwidth, participative media production will increasingly enter the domain of ordinary network users.

There are several corollaries and trends to this enabling of ordinary users which have also arisen out of recent communication and transportation technologies, including:

Narrowcasting instead of broadcasting

By this it is meant that users are increasingly able to finely tune what they receive to their specific interests – what Nicholas Negroponte called "The Daily Me" (Being Digital, Nicholas Negroponte, Vintage Books (paperback), 1996). 24 hour fishing, shopping, news and music channels. Radio stations that play nothing but Led Zeppelin songs.

Tribalism instead of nationalism

By this it is meant that in modern pluralist nations, individuals are often identifying more with those who share their world view and interests, than those with whom they are in geographical proximity.

The proposed HyperMedia Player opens the collaborative world of writing musical scores, directing and producing music videos, remixing and enhancing digital media to an entirely new range of users.

Ted Leath - last modified April 16th, 1999