Recent advances in technology have changed our use of audio and video. In the past, we listened to an audio broadcast through a radio and watched a video program broadcast through a TV. We used the telephone network to interactively communicate with another party. But times have changed. People want to use the Internet not only for text and image communications, but also for audio and video services.
We can divide audio and video services into three broad categories:
1. Streaming stored audio/video
2. Streaming live audio/video
3. Interactive audio/video
1. Streaming stored audio/video, the files are compressed and stored on a server. A clientdownloads the files through the Internet.
2. Streaming live audio/video, a user listens to broadcast audio and video through the Internet.
3. Interactive audio/video, people use the Internet to interactively communicate with oneanother.
1. Digitizing Audio and Video
Before audio or video signals can be sent on the Internet, they need to be digitized.
When sound is fed into a microphone, an electronic analog signal is generated which represents the sound amplitude as a function of time. The signal is called an analog audio signal. An analog signal, such as audio, can be digitized to produce a digital signal. According to the Nyquist theorem, if the highest frequency of the signal is f, we need to sample the signal 21 times per second. There are other methods for digitizing an audio signal, but the principle is the same.
A video consists of a sequence of frames. If the frames are displayed on the screen fast enough, we get an impression of motion. The reason is that our eyes cannot distinguish the rapidly flashing frames as individual ones. There is no standard number of frames per second; in North America 25 frames per second is common. However, to avoid a condition known as flickering, a frame needs to be refreshed. The TV industry repaints each frame twice. This means 50 frames need to be sent, or if there is memory at the sender site, 25 frames with each frame repainted from the memory.
2. Audio and Video Compression
To send audio or video over the Internet requires compression
Audio compression can be used for speech or music. For speech, we need to compress a 64-kHz digitized signal; for music, we need to compress a 1.41 I-MHz signal. Two categories of techniques are used for audio compression: predictive encoding and perceptual encoding.
a. Predictive Encoding
In predictive encoding, the differences between the samples are encoded instead of encoding all the sampled values. This type of compression is normally used for speech. Several standards have been defined such as GSM (13 kbps), G.729 (8 kbps), and G.723.3 (6.4 or 5.3 kbps).
b. Perceptual Encoding: MP3
The most common compression technique that is used to create CD-quality audio is based on the perceptual encoding technique. As we mentioned before, this type of audio needs at least 1.411 Mbps; this cannot be sent over the Internet without compression. MP3 (MPEG audio layer 3), a part of the MPEG standard (discussed in the video compression section), uses this technique.
As we mentioned before, video is composed of multiple frames. Each frame is one image. We can compress video by first compressing images. Two standards are prevalent in the market. Joint Photographic Experts Group (JPEG) is used to compress images. Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG) is used to compress video.
a. Image Compression: JPEG
If the picture is not in color (gray scale) then each pixel can be represented by an 8-bit integer (256 levels). If the picture is in color, each pixel can be represented by 24 bits (3 x 8 bits), with each 8 bits representing red, blue, or green (RBG). To simplify the discussion, we concentrate on a gray scale picture.
b. Video Compression: MPEG
The Moving Picture Experts Group method is used to compress video. In principle, a motion picture is a rapid flow of a set of frames, where each frame is an image. In other words, a frame is a spatial combination of pixels, and a video is a temporal combination of frames that are sent one after another. Compressing video, then, means spatially compressing each frame and temporally compressing a set of frames.
3. Streaming Live Audio/video
Streaming live audio/video is similar to the broadcasting of audio and video by radio and TV stations. Instead of broadcasting to the air, the stations broadcast through the Internet. There are several similarities between streaming stored audio/video and streaming live audio/video. They are both sensitive to delay; neither can accept retransmission. However, there is a difference. In the first application, the communication is unicast and on-demand. In the second, the communication is multicast and live. Live streaming is better suited to the multicast services of IP and the use of protocols such as UDP and RTP.
4. Real-Time Interactive Audio/video
In real-time interactive audio/video, people communicate with one another in real time. The Internet phone or voice over IP is an example of this type of application. Video conferencing is another example that allows people to communicate visually and orally.
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