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Goings-on in Streaming Media Land

By Jon Ingle, UNT Central Web Support

As many of you know, Austin Laird retired as the media server administrator and passed the baton on to me, Jon Ingle. This transfer of power happened over last summer. So please welcome your new streaming media server administrator!  In this article, I'm going to cover some of the changes that have occurred since the summer and give a peek into future projects. 

Media Server Upgrade

The major change that occurred was the upgrade from RealNetworks media server 8.0 to their newest server called Helix Universal Server. Helix offers many benefits over the previous versions.  One feature is a wider array of media formats that it is able to stream. Below is a table that displays the formats available for streaming: 

RealNetworks:    RealAudio (.rm), RealVideo (.rm, .rmvb), RealPix (.rp),

RealText (.rt)

Macromedia:    Flash (.swf)

Microsoft:    Windows Media (.asf, .wma, .wmv)

Apple:    QuickTime (.mov)

Standards-Based:    MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, MP3

Image Formats:    GIF (.gif), JPEG (.jpg, jpeg), PNG (.png)

Other:    AU (.au), AIFF (.aif, .ief), WAV (.wav)

Another benefit is the ability to have redundant servers. Soon the media server will be attached to the SAN with two computers fielding the streaming media requests. Though the problems with the media server being down have been few, as more people use it, the need for high availability increases.

Future plans?

Regarding future plans for the media server, there has been interest on campus to use the server as a digital library. The Media Library in Chilton Hall has expressed interest to buy digital rights to stream media on the server. Some rights allow them to digitize media they already possess but many media companies are beginning to sell digital formats outright.  I have been working with Sue Parks over in the Media Library and within the next year, it is projected that there could be 1,100 titles on the media server available for streaming.   

Though this is an exciting use of the media server, there are many hurdles. One is the management of the specific rights connected to each piece of media. Different media companies allow different kinds of rights so there will need to be some way to automate this process. Another hurdle is authentication. Lately, I have been looking into how to authenticate from LDAP to the media server. To my knowledge there is no way to pass a token to the media server to authenticate to it. Helix has its own authentication "database" which means it is necessary to put information there to authenticate to it. As of yet, I have not found a way to automatically get around this. 

Recently, UNT hosted a live satellite program titled the Real Cost of Online Courses. We obtained a license to digitize the program and make it available to stream. The license required that only people from the UNT community (faculty, student, staff) could watch the stream. Since there was no direct way to authenticate to Helix from LDAP, I had to write a CGI program in PERL that would authenticate off of LDAP and create an account on the media server. With the creation of the account, a person could then watch the secured stream. This "work-around" was acceptable for the scope of this particular program, but would not fill the need for a more robust way to secure media.  Though I will be researching this more, I welcome any advice you would have to give.

Any questions, suggestions or ideas you have about the media server, please do not hesitate to let me know. I can be reached at 369.6464 or by E-mail at joningle@unt.edu.