Collections: Tools, Drivers, and Plugins
Just as you need a VCR to play a videotape, you need a player to see or hear digital recordings. Much of the digital audio and video you find on the web can be seen or heard in a standard web browser. However, sometimes specialized tools or viewers are needed.
Music, audiobooks, famous speeches, sounds, and sound effects can all be found in a digital audio format. Digital audio is available in a variety of file formats including AVI, MP3, RealAudio, WAV (WaveForm) and WMA. Go to Audio formats at Wikipedia to learn about the history of each format.
AVI. Audio Video Interleave (AVI) is the most common format for audio and video data on a computer. Most players will play AVI files. Learn more at Audio Video Interleave at Wikipedia.
MIDI. Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) is used for musical information between musical instruments, synthesizers, and computers. Most players will play MIDI files. Learn more at Musical Instrument Digital Interface at Wikipedia.
MP3. Much of the music and many of the audiobooks you download will be in MP3. MPEG (Moving Pictures Experts Group) is a set of standards used for coding audio-visual information in a digital compressed format. The MP3 format has become a popular way to store music and other digital audio files. Because MPEG files are highly compressed, they are smaller in size than other files of the same quality. These high quality sounds files are downloaded to your computer much faster than the WAV files and can be played back in your web browser. They can also be played in the software that comes with the Mac (i.e., iTunes) and Windows. You may also find the older MPEG2 files online. Use the off-site link MPEG.ORG or How MP3 Files Work by M. Brain at How Stuff Works for more information about MP3. Learn more at MP3 at Wikipedia.
RealAudio. The Real Player is used to play sound recordings using "streaming" technology. In other words, they play quicker than many other files because they start playing as soon as they start downloading the file to your computer. These files are not permanently stored on your computer, so they can't be stored and played "off-line". The Real software is available for both Mac and Windows. If you have trouble with the Real software, try downloading the newest version. Learn more at RealAudio at Wikipedia.
Click Real Player to go to a page where you can download the software. Look for the link to the FREE player version rather than the TRIAL version.
WAV. The WaveForm Audio File Format provides a high-quality sound that can be downloaded to your computer and stored. They can be played without being connected to the Internet. Although they take longer to download than RealAudio files, they are useful because they can be inserted into PowerPoint presentations. Most web browsers can play these files without special software. Learn more at WAV at Wikipedia.
WMA. Windows has it's own audio files known as WMA. Windows Media Audio (.wma) files are Advanced Systems Format (.asf) files. These audio files are compressed with the Windows Media Audio (WMA) codec. These files can be played on Media Player for Windows. Learn more at Windows Media Audio (WMA) at Wikipedia.
Video and Animation
Digital video is available in a variety of file formats including WMV, RM (Real Media), QuickTime, and MPG.
Windows Media. One of the most popular formats for video is the Windows Media Video (WMV or WM). Windows Media Video (.wmv) files are Advanced Systems Format (.asf) files. These video files are compressed with the Windows Media Audio (.wma) and Windows Media Video (.wmv) codec. There's also a new file type know as WMV HD for high definition video. These files can be played on Windows Media Player. Learn more at Windows Media Video at Wikipedia.
RealMedia. The RealMedia (.ram or .rm) files are streamed and play as they download. As a result, they start playing quickly before the entire video is downloaded. On slow connections, they may pause occasionally as the stream catches up, so they don't have the smooth flow of some videos. These files are only temporarily stored on the computer, so an Internet connection is needed for viewing. RealMedia files can be played on Real Media Player (Yes, that is the same media player software that works for RealAudio files - described above). Learn more at RealMedia at Wikipedia.
QuickTime (MOV). The QuickTime (.mov) format can be displayed within your web browser or in a separate window. They use the codec (COmpression and DECompression) standard that provides small files can be downloaded and viewed on any computer. Some versions of QuickTime movies are streamed (played and downloaded at the same time). It depends how they were saved. The older Cinepack codec files are lower quality, but download and play quick. The Sorenson codec is higher quality and streamed, but requires a high speed connection. The QuickTime Player is available for both Windows and for Macs. Learn more at QuickTime at Wikipedia.
MPEG. The MPEG (Moving Picture Experts Group) (.mpg) format is downloaded to your computer. These small, high quality files require playback software. The MPEG format has evolved and now includes mp1, mp2, mp3, and mp4 compression systems. These files can be played in Windows Media Player or the QuickTime Player in either Mac or Windows. For more information go to MPEG.org and learn more at Moving Picture Expert Groups at Wikipedia.
Flash. Adobe Flash is a plugin for animation and interactivity. It's used for visual effects, games, and animations. Click Adobe Flash Player to get the plugin.
Delivery / Storage Formats
Audio and video historically has been delivered via an analog recording signal by a variety of formats; grooves on a cylinder recording to a number of different types of tape recordings. More up-to-date avenues for audio and video programming include listening and seeing the program on a laptop computer, using one of the many Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) devices available, or other products such as Amazon's Kindle and Apple's iPad. But there still remains the need to store and transport a program from one player / viewing device to another. Some of today's digital recording formats for storage and delivery of audio and video programs include:
CD (Compact Disc) is an optical disc used to store digital data. CDs remain a standard physical format for audio recordings.
DVD (Digital Video Disc) is a popular storage format for data and video. Most DVDs are the same size / dimensions as a compact disc (CD), but can store six times the data. Learn more at DVD at Wikipedia.
Blu-ray Disc is a 'next generation' optical disc format that is mainly used for high definition video and data. Much more data can be stored on a Blu-ray than a DVD disc. Learn more at Blu-ray Disc at Wikipedia.
Learn more about digital media at Wikipedia.
There's probably lots of interest in using sound and video files in your library. Choose one of the formats above and create a "Multimedia for Beginners" type handout that provides definitions, FAQs (frequently asked questions with answers), examples, and step-by-step help for a particular audience.
For those who would like a bit more information related to digital media formats, here are a few more useful online resources . . .
- Adobe - Video and Audio Primers (Note: The Adobe Creative Suite 5 software package is available in Mac or PC versions at no cost to IUPUI students. It includes Photoshop, Flash, and several other useful programs. Two separate versions of Adobe CS5 are provided at https://iuware.iu.edu/)
- Audio File Format at Wikipedia
- Digital Audio/Video File Formats: The Basics by R. Graves (Apr 2008) from Crutchfield New Media
- Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) About Digital Audio and Video Records from The National Archives
- Ultimate Guide to Digital Video Formats, The from TechLore