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SPIKE109.9 is on the Air!

Author’s note: the radio station in this rant is no longer functioning. Sorry!

SPiKE109.9 is on the Air.

Sometimes the Net is just about the coolest thing going. Sometimes it isn’t, but right now, it is. Confused? If you have WinAmp or Mp3Spy, click this link and listen to SPiKE109.9 right now.

It’s a radio stream I’m broadcasting 24 hours a day (unless Rogers Cable Modem craps out, like it did last night). After a few days of experimenting, I decided to go with a dual format playlist for the radio station – Alternative / Mix (sometimes you’ll find completely different songs tossed in for variety, like putting Enya right between two Bush cuts), from the time I wake up to about 10 pm. Then overnight, I run comedy albums. I have about 3 dozen different comedy albums, from Eddie Murphy to Woody Allen and everything in between, so there should be something to please everyone.

A note on the stream tech level I chose. I decided to go for a 56kbit / 22Khertz stream. What does this mean? It means you have to have dual 56k modems, ISDN or higher to receive the stream in it’s full clarity. This also means modem users (56K and below) are out of luck – the stream will not come through full. Why did I choose this? Because the stream I am using allows me to broadcast at “near CD quality”… a bit higher than FM radio quality. I tried lower streams, but the quality sucked. However, IF enough people email me saying they’d like me to go to a lower stream rate (lower quality), I’ll do it if, say 5 folks ask… 🙂

Which brings me to the subject of today’s rant. The coolness factor the Internet. There are some days where very little about the internet impresses me – very much a case of “been there, done that, seen this, got bored by that”. The daily drudgery of dealing with email in a timely manner (I get about 30-50 legit emails a day), coding pages for 4-6 hours, surfing usenet, reading my “daily web page readings”, etc etc. It all gets to be, I don’t know, routine?

Then once in a while I find something that makes it extremely cool again. Like Shoutcast… a way to become your very own garage (or offshore) pirate radio broadcaster. Screw the CRTC (or the FCC for you Yanks). Shoutcast lets you be Christian Slater in your garage, broadcasting out your own choice of music and various rants live on the Internet. Stuff most folks couldn’t even dream about doing 10 years ago. 10 years ago, you needed a broadcasting radio, a fair amount of power, and even then very few folks were within range to hear what you were sending out.

Okay, so technically, streaming out a signal live over the internet isn’t the same thing. And it has its own set of limitations. People need to have WinAmp to listen. People need to find your link, and actively “link” to it to listen. People need a fast modem (cable, ADSL, T1, IDSN) to listen to good quality music. And more. But the tech also allows you to do a lot more. For instance, you can set up a directory of mp3 files – say 1 gig worth total, and you have enough songs to play for a week without repetition. You can also program in lots of different effects, “DJ” your songs (speak in between), program in commercial breaks, all sorts of things. And of course, you can have talk radio if you want. And the best part? All of it is free (after, of course, you’ve paid for your music CDs and converted them to MP3 format :-))

So all of this is cool, but you what makes it really cool? It’s the freedom, man. The freedom to broadcast out a signal. To air your opinions. To share your taste in music. To “be on the airwaves”. It adds a whole new component to the whole “Internet Communications” model. Take this page for example. This is how I communicate to anyone who loads this page, or wants to know about me and what I think. But streaming a virtual radio signal over Internet brings that to a whole new level. And you know what’s even cooler? Technology exists right now to broadcast live video streams. I’m not just talking about your typical wanker amateur web cam chick site… I’m talking about streaming out full 30fps, cd quality sound audio to the world. Your own virtual television station. AND… you can do it for free (after your net access, and video cameras are paid for)

You don’t see much of this today because of one reason – bandwidth. To broadcast a 320×240 full color video stream at a 30fps speed, with cd quality audio (in stereo, natch), all in mpeg format takes roughly 50kbytes per second. Cable has this ability, especially if your network node is 10mbit full streaming (even if you’re sharing your cable signal with others in your “neighbourhood”). You could stream out your signal to 10, 20 or more people. ADSL has this ability as well, especially the higher bandwidth versions. A T1 can do it as well. But what if you want to stream to 100s of people at a time?

Can’t be done, at least not with today’s technology and bandwidth coming into the home. Let’s look at the current state of MPEG coding and sizes. An uncompressed 320×240 video with high quality sound is roughly 7.5 megabytes per second in size. MPEG encoding can compress this down to a 50:1 ratio in some cases, 40:1 ratio in others (and less for higher quality), so that makes your per second MPEG streaming about 150kbytes per second. A 50:1 compression rate is really amazing, but still not enough for realistic streaming to multiple recipients – 10 people viewing your video stream means you need a 1.5 megabyte upstream. 100 people means you need a 15mbyte upstream, and so on.

So one of three things needs to change: new compression technology even better than MPEG has to come along, taking what is a 7.5 megabyte per second stream per second stream and compressing it to 1/100th of it’s size, or about 7.5kbytes per second stream without much loss in video or sound quality; Bandwidth needs to increase big time, going from Cable’s current 10mbit / 3mbit caps (roughly 1.25kbytes or 400kbytes) to 100mbits or more; or multistreaming capability needs to be created and perfected.

The last option might become reality. IPv6 is a technology that is trying to create multistreaming – allowing your solitary outstream to be viewed by multiple recipients. It’s the tech I’m holding out for most because it’s by far the most realistic and efficient. Bandwith increases would be nice, but it took us 4 years to get Cable and ADSL into even a small number of homes. I can’t see something 10 times the speed of ADSL coming within the next year or two. IPv6 has been in development now, but all I’ve read about it shows it could be the killer app of the Internet for next year. Anyone with a cable modem could hypothetically stream out a full television station over the Internet with this technology. We’re in for exciting times.

Meanwhile, I’ll be happy for now being some kinda pirate radio broadcaster. So if you have a good connection, tune into Radio PiR8 Coffee Tuunz. And if it sucks, and enough people email me about the connection being too choppy, I’ll throttle it down a bit. And I take requests… 🙂

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