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So You Got a New Computer for Christmas. Now What?

Now that the holiday celebrations have passed and all the wrapping paper’s been discarded (except by my mom, who lovingly saves old bows and untorn paper to use again at some unspecified future Christmas), some of you who received a new desktop or laptop may be wondering how to join the streaming ranks.

Perhaps you’ve purchased a Mac and want to play Windows Media files, or perhaps you’ve visited a site that uses Real and want to know how to stream the files. Or maybe you’re just fed up with the idea of everything playing through Windows Media Player. Who knows—there are as many different ways to stream content as there are streams to watch. So let’s look at a few tips on how to stream various formats:

Flash
The reigning champion (or just behind Microsoft, depending on whose press releases you believe) of internet streaming comes pre-installed on almost every new machine these days. The recent release of the Flash Player formerly known as MovieStar, which yields the ability to play key H.264 profiles as well as VP6-S high-definition files, is not installed on most machines that shipped for Christmas, so a visit to www.adobe.com/go/getflashplayer to get the most recent version is probably in order.

Also, for those of you interested in the Adobe Media Player, which will be launched in early 2008 along with the new Flash Media Server 3 family, Adobe Labs has just recently updated the pre-release versions of both the Adobe Integrated Runtime (AIR) platform and the Adobe Media Player, which means for you Apple OS X 10.5 Leopard fans out there you can now play video files in AMP without crashing the application.

Windows Media
If you’re on Vista – once you get past "cancel or allow" jokes – you will have no trouble playing Windows Media files, or AVI or MP3 or most other files. Even MPEG-2 files can play in Windows Media Player without extra software—something that Apple’s QuickTime can’t do without paying an extra $20—as long as you’re willing to put up with the annoying crawl that says your Elecard MPEG-2 decoder has expired. If you want uninterrupted MPEG-2 (including MPG, M2T and M2V) viewing fun on Vista or XP, pay the upgrade cost. And for those of you on Vista missing the radio tuner from your XP days, never fear: just visit here for a listing of stations to listen to via Windows Media Player.

For those on a Mac, playing Windows Media files are a bit trickier; Microsoft ended its Mac application builds a few years ago, with "no plans to provide future updates or product support" and partnered with Telestream to provide a free version of Flip4Mac Player. The thing is that not all Windows Media files will play with just the Flip4Mac Player. Case in point is Mediasite.com, Sonic Foundry’s marketing site; as I recently found out, you may need to reinstall (or install) the Windows Media Player 9 for Mac player after you install Flip4Mac and then deselect the "Use Flip4Mac WMV Browser plug-in" in the System Preferences of your OS X Tiger or Leopard machine. Visit www.mactopia.com and choose "Other Products" to find information about Windows Media on the Mac; keep scrolling as it’s way down toward the bottom.

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