Believe it or not but with Apple's free streaming server software you can be your own BBC. You can broadcast audio and video content - pre-recorded or live - over the Internet to the world. Blogging doesn't even come close to how cool this is.

Apple proved quite recently that its multimedia streaming technology is ripe for use, and easy in deployment. With the introduction of Airport Express with AirTunes, streaming audio from one device to another within your own house - be it from the living room to the kitchen, to the garden or across the swimming pool - became almost overnight something of a commodity. With Apple's iTunes Music Store breaking record after record in sales volume and popularity, multimedia streaming is suddenly en vogue more than ever before as a war over formats unfolds. See also the Macworld Online feature Digital music format wars by Digital Music News editor-in-chief Paul Resnikoff. So, you wanna be a VJ?

With Apple's QuickTime Streaming Server software (QTSS), you can stream both music and video over the Internet, as well as embed it in a Web site.

What you need to do next is download the free QTSS from Apple's Web site and make sure that you own a QuickTime Pro licence.

Setting up a streaming server isn't as easy as plugging in AirPort Express. It involves navigating through a jungle of standards, but bear in mind that most of the important features and minor bugs aren't well documented. Thanks to Apple's commitment to making QuickTime the standard for content creation and delivery, it is free.

When choosing an export setting in QuickTime Pro, the dialog 'Options...' will often make the difference.

For ambitious audio- and video-professionals QuickTime streaming is the perfect way to present work in a fashionable and compelling way. For companies, streaming creates an opportunity to deliver information to investors, educate customers or broadcast motivational content to employees. For almost anyone, it can make the wish of their voice being heard (and seen) by an infinitely broad Internet audience come true.

What are the choices? Apart from QuickTime, you could go for Real's Helix streaming server, which will likely impose on you astronomic licence fees but have the advantage of being able to reach out to audiences, which don't use anything else.

Then there is Microsoft's streaming technology, Windows Media, which is basically a cost-free offering but does not support the Mac as an authoring and streaming platform. Thus, after giving it a second thought, you may like the idea of streaming MPEG-4, a multimedia standard supported by QuickTime and iTunes as well as Real's client software and a lot of other players on the market.

Movie settings for hinted streaming. These encoding settings will produce a streamable file, but regardless of the MPEG-4 codec used the result will be a QuickTime video and not a MPEG-4-compliant file, because of the choice of 'Movie to QuickTime Movie'.

QTSS can serve an unlimited number of QuickTime, MP3 and MPEG-4 streams free of charge, which is a life-threatening prospect for Real. Real still depends on its astronomic licence fees, which you don't even have to think about if you use Apple's QTSS. Moreover, you can stream with QTSS on almost any platform.

The QTSS 'tax cut'
Serving Windows Media and Real proves to be an expensive undertaking with a built-in cost explosion: Windows doesn't scale well while Real scales the licence fees, too. Unlike QTSS, Real's Helix will serve only up to 10 simultaneous streams for free. This is just enough to test-drive the configuration, but it's useless if you try to deliver a scalable and load-balanced streaming service.

First introduced in 1991, QuickTime has been Apple's centrepiece for content creation and development ever since. Over the time QuickTime emerged from a Mac-only multimedia technology, based upon proprietary standards and closed source, to a widely accepted standard on the Mac as well as on the PC. Millions of users, most of them from the Windows world, have downloaded and used the software to gain access to exclusive content. Countless music videos and cinema trailers hav been encoded using Apple's QuickTime.

Fine-tuning the export settings for RTP streaming in QuickTime Pro.

Nevertheless, in the early days of Internet-based multimedia delivery in the mid-90s, any mention of streaming almost automatically meant a referral to Real Networks' proprietary technology, Real Audio/Real Video. Not even Microsoft was able to seriously challenge the leadership of Real Networks (now called just Real) in this field. Windows Media was never a truly scalable solution and so it never really took off.

The most important argument for Real-based streaming software was the fact that it originally provided the only truly cross-platform streaming solution out there. Real Networks' streaming software was available not only for the quite frequently installed and highly unreliable Windows systems, but also - and most importantly - for nearly any relevant Unix flavour like Irix from Silicon Graphics (today known as 'sgi'), NetBSD, Open BSD and FreeBSD, Solaris and Linux.

The 3GPP-Codec in QuickTime: Creating content for 3G mobile devices such as cell phones and PDAs

QuickTime Streaming wasn't even invented yet. Back then, Apple was struggling to survive. In 1993, Apple introduced the Workgroup Server 60 with a 50 Mhz 68040 and maxed it out 1997 with Apple's Workgroup Server 9650 based on a 350 MHz 604e PowerPC chip running Mac OS 7.6.1. The HFS file system, which was unavoidable until Mac OS 8.1, couldn't handle partitions larger than 2 Gigabytes, which became a serious constraint for content creation and storage. Apple's Network and Workgroup Servers never managed to get a stronghold in the Web server and streaming server market. If Apple's history would have ceased right here, we surely wouldn't be talking about QuickTime Streaming Server 5.x and Tiger's Core Media technology today.

Core Media and Mac OS XBR>
Core Media, the new engine for content creation and development, is partially included in Panther and completely built-in to Apple's upcoming Mac OS X v.10.4 (code name: Tiger). It incorporates three elements: Core Audio, Core Image and Core Video, introduced step-by step in new releases of Apple's software. Core Audio has already proved to be a technological quantum leap for the company, contributing to its 80% share in the market for professional audio content creation and boosting the market share of Apple's Xserve and QTSS. Also other products based upon this technology developed into major sales hits.

A real-time preview of a stream delivered by QuickTime Streaming Server on Mac OS X Server.

One of the reasons why Core Audio became such an awesome breakthrough is its set of features, including:
- Ultra-low latency,
- Support for 192KHz and beyond with an unlimited number of channels for playback and capture,
- Plug-&-play functionality for audio devices,
- Extensibility with Audio Units for DSP and virtual instruments.

With the introduction of Xserve and Xserve RAID Apple finally succeeded in creating - for the first time ever - a complete streaming solution involving both hardware and software.

QuickTime Publisher comes standard with Mac OS X Server, but unlike QuickTime Broadcaster (for recording and streaming live events), the Publisher is not included in the free QTSS distribution. Without QuickTime Publisher, QTSS can be administered with a web-based interface.

Many TV, radio and news publishing houses have been offering streaming video for years. As they needed these services urgently, they ended up paying a high price. In order to reach large audiences many decided to provide both Real and Windows Media streams. With cross-platform and player-independent MPEG-4 streams it is now possible to reach nearly everyone on Mac OS, Windows, Linux and Unix with just one single stream.

Truly, firing-up iTunes 4.6 isn't an issue, but if you intend to stream over the Internet, you'll get serious thrill issues as soon as you get to know what IT consultants will charge you for this. Streaming used to be quite expensive, but there is no reason you can't do it on your own. You don't need a consultant to run a QuickTime streaming server.

QuickTime Publisher under Mac OS X Server can generate HTML code which will correctly embed the stream in a website.

QTSS is capable of streaming various file formats, including .mov, .mp3, .mp4 and even .avi, .text, .wav or .dv, as long as some additional information about the files is provided to the server. This is called 'hinting'.

File formats, which support hinting, such as MPEG-4, must be encoded in QuickTime Pro with the hinting option activated.

A graphical overview of the workload mesured as the average number of connected users in Mac OS X Server.

Some file formats such as e.g. .AVI, .DV, .WAV and .AIFF cannot hold hinting information. In order for them to become 'streamable', an additional file - the so-called 'hinted movie' - has to be created from the original media file ('File: Export: Movie to QuickTime Hinted Movie' in QuickTime Pro) and placed in the media directory of the streaming server along with it. Any link should point to the hinted movie, which will prompt the server to deliver content from the original file.

Any streams which rely on a separate hinted movie will play back only when using QuickTime, just like any .MOV streams. All media files go to the directory: '/Library/QuickTimeStreaming/Movies/'.

To address a broader audience, which may not use QuickTime at all, you can consider streaming playlists containing MP3 or MPEG-4 files. Such playlists can be used across platforms in any standard-compliant multimedia player, including Real One, QuickTime and even on some handheld devices.

Depending on the HTML source code, the movie's control elements are either accessible, or hidden.

Playlists can be configured in the Web front-end of the streaming server (http://address:1220/). Any media except for MP3 files belong to a 'movie playlist'. All files in a playlist must be of the same kind and encoded with identical settings.

MP3 audio playlists
An MP3 playlist contains only MP3 audio files (.MP3).

In order to request an MP3 playlist, all a user needs to know is a link to the playlists eg: http://ipadresse:8000/mp3mountpoint. You can open streams of your MP3 playlists in iTunes using the command 'Advanced: Open Stream'.

In order to allow a Web browser to access an MP3 playlist embedded in a Web site, you will have to create an audio metafile (.M3U or .PLS) and place it in the document directory of the Web server which will serve the corresponding page. The Web page must reference not the playlist's mountpoint, but the meta file, and only this file points to the playlist's mountpoint. In Mac OS X Server, this process can be completed automatically (Mac OS X Server comes standard with QTSS, QT Broadcaster and QuickTime Publisher). On any other system, you can work around this by creating a .M3U meta file in a text editor such as BBEdit. The meta file must contain the line http://ipadresse:8000/mp3mountpoint, and carry the file extension .m3u.

MPEG-4 playlists
An MPEG-4 playlist will stream audio or video files (.MP4), which can be played across platforms in any standard-compliant multimedia player such as Real One, QuickTime and some handheld devices.

To access a movie playlist, including MPEG-4 playlists, the user needs to be pointed to the SPD file (SDP stands for 'session description protocol file'), which generally translates into a link of the type:

Mac OS X Server 10.3.5 comes with QuickTime Streaming Server pre-installed, and sports some additional software to ease up the process of media delivery.

Users of Mac OS X Server 10.3.x can ripe some extra benefits of Apple's ongoing effort to make Mac OS X Server the best streaming platform around. Newest Mac OS X Server-only advancements include updated QuickTime streaming and broadcast services for compatibility with 3G phones, the next-generation standard that brings multimedia streaming to the pocket.

Download address for QTSS and DSS:
[1] Overview of QuickTime Streaming Server (QTSS) and Darwin Streaming Server (DSS)

[2] Darwin Streaming Server Web site

[3] Precompiled streaming server binary download

[4] Streaming proxy for Mac OS X download

[5] QuickTime Broadcaster for Mac OS X download

[6] Mac OS X Server v10.3.5 Combo Update (applicable for 10.3.0-10.3.4)