Topic: Sermon Audio

Hello gang!
I wasn't exactly sure that this topic fit in any of the different topic sections of GBF, but I assume it fits okay here (if there's a better spot, feel free to move it).

Basicly I'm wondering what audio format I should use for Sermon Audio. On our previous design we went with .wma and .mp3, but I'm not sure if that's the best option or not. I'm positive about the mp3 file format, since it anyone can download it. But for the .wma format, I'm not sure. The goal behind using .wma was to allow the user to stream the audio directly from the site rather than having to download it to listen to it. Obviously now that FF is more popular I'd like to be able to please those visitors as well.

So what is the best route to go for streaming sermon audio off of a church site? Is there an option that would work for both IE and FF, or am I basicly going to either have to do one format for each browser? Also, do you see streaming audio as an option that should be offered, or should we just go with mp3?

Thanks!

Zak

Re: Sermon Audio

I prefer to use mp3 as it is much more versatile and more people are familiar with it.. and it plays in just about any player. Portable media these days is key. Especially if you will be offering it up as a podcast at anytime.

Browser type should play no part in the choice.. it works the same in both.

Our company prefers to offer a Flash player for music. It is platform/OS independant and doesn't require any other plug-in besides flash.

I dream with an XML intereface

Re: Sermon Audio

Yeah, I understand about the MP3 part of things. I'm completely sold on using them. I guess I should have rephrased that bit of things. Mainly my question is about streaming the sermons (rather than having the user download the file offering a streaming version where the user can listen to the sermon directly off the server). I want to offer both streamable and downloadable versions of the sermons. The downloadable version being in MP3. So my question is mostly about how to handle the streaming version.

Does that makes sense?

Re: Sermon Audio

I agree. MP3 for podcasting, Flash for streaming. WMA acts funky in all but Internet Explorer, whereas Flash is predictable, and for multi-media is itself a "standard," albeit proprietary. I'm really impressed with what Flash can do for video now, rivaling Quicktime and WMV, and playing consistently on both Mac/Win.

Give me liturgy or give me death.

Re: Sermon Audio

If I remember rightly, it is possible to get mp3 files to play before they finish downloading, ie streaming them. A quick search reminds me that it is the m3u playlist file which allows for this... see here. I'm not sure how effective it is, but as long as m3u opens in a media player, it should stream it.

Josh Townson

Re: Sermon Audio

Streaming.. the other bad word of the internet. Lets flush out an understanding of what streaming actually means in the context of delivering content across the internet. I've written several discusion on this in several different forums so I'll try to summarize. Hopefully you can get a better understanding of streaming content and be able to descide on how how actually deliver it.

When you want to deliver media over the web, you basically have 3 options.

1) Hardlink to the file and let the user
    A) "right click, save as..." to have them dowload it
    B) click the link to have the browser use whatever the defualt player is try to play it embeded within the browser
    C) create some sort of "Force Download" script in PHP or ASP to force the file to download to you local PC

2) Use a method of streaming called "Delivery via HTTP"

3) Use a method of streaming called "Real Streaming"


Number 1 is nice if you want to allow your users to download the media right out in the open. I typically like method 1A as it ensures a desired response to clicking the link. this option really isn't streaming so we'll move on.

Number 3 is probably the most wrongly labeled streaming type. Most people call what they do "Real Streaming" or "True Streaming"  when really what they are doing is delivering the content over HTTP (Number 2). Real Streaming requires a streaming server such as Apple's Darwin server , Real Media's real server, Macromedia's Flash Com server, etc... This basically sets up a connection to the user and monitors the connection speed and produces a variable bit rate stream based on connection speed. To do that it needs the software loaded on these servers. This was a huge deal before the number of broadband users went up. It still has it's place but due to the rise of connection speed most people opt to stream media straight across HTTP (number 2)

Number 2 is an excellant way of providing content to users. Let me explain a bit why I say it's called "Delivery via HTTP". When you issue a browser or media player request to a file that resides on a web server you will have to address it to the URL where it resides. becasue you are on a webserver it will be via HTTP protocol and be based on the HTTP connection speed and bitrate that the move can move across your connection. If you are trying to secure your files to keep people from playing them locally... this is NOT the way to do it. All files transfered this way must be downloaded (at least to the TEMP directory) in order for them to play. You can hide where the go by doing some tricks but they will be there.

Most players have been around long enough to know that this is how most people deliver their media and have built some nice features into the players and encoders that allow them to monitor the total filesize and download speed and start the file playing once it calculates when it can play with no interuption. But the speed and bitrate is still all based on the connection speed and encoding of the movie. You can't change this with a straight HTTP stream.

I would guess that there are probably 4 main types to do that. here are my thoughts on each one. They are just my expierences and nothing more.

Windows Media Player - Proprietary File Type. Unexpected results in non Windows browsers. Depending on Codec It may need to download the latest player version in order to play properly. It is easy to encode movies due to the Windows Movie Encoder that is shipped with XP. That makes it nice, doesn't out weigh the negatives.

Real Player - Really.. who still uses this? Proprietary File Type. Depending on Codec It may need to download the latest player version in order to play properly. You have to buy the version to encode video/audio. Plus the player puts all kind of crappy pop-up advertisments that take forever to figure out how to turn them off.

QuickTime - My most favorite Stand Alone player. They compress well and have several very good codecs. But even the latest one that is very good requires QuickTime 7, which most people don't have yet. It still retains a Proprietary File Type and requires a purchased product to encode the video/audio. Quicktime also lends itself well to embedding the player within a webpage to retain the look and feel of a site.

Flash - My most favorite option. You can deliver MP3's or SWF's (I prefer MP3's becasue of the open source LAME encoder that is free, plus most people know about them and what to do with an MP3) . If we deal in video then usually we will convert the file to a SWF via Sorrenson's program called Squeeze or more recently we use Macromedia's own Flash Encoder (requires the Flash 8 player plugin). The downside is that you need to own a copy of Flash. Most web developers allready have this (no need to tell me if you don't) and you need to know how to get around or follow some online tutorials. The alternative is that there are several Flash Players on the market to use. If they are built correctly they can do all teh connection speed monitoring and will deliver your content with no halting. You can skin a Flash movie to blend in well with the site and if the developer designs it correctly it can be developed to the Flash Plugin that they should allready have. (I know this is a slippery slope)

ON EDIT:
I forgot the use of pointer files. Basically small files that have a text URL within them that point to the URL where the actual media file resides. For example you can use a *.m3u  file that will launch you default player and tell it to go retrieve the URL that is listed within the .m3u file. It speeds things up locally becuase you are downloading a very small file (becuase the .m3u only houses a text link) and launched the player.. then streams. In contrast, sometime things will slowdown locally when you try to launch a player and stream things across at the same time. Machines with small RAM have a tough time processing all that becuase the browser eats a good bit of resources when trying to bring through the file and launch a player.

Hope that helps. I just kinda blurted all that out so let me know if I was inncorrect in some areas.

Last edited by tank (2005-12-19 15:36:27)

I dream with an XML intereface

Re: Sermon Audio

Anyone have any thoughts on mp4 (MPEG-4) vs mp3 (MPEG-1 Layer III).  Doing a bit of research, it appears mp4 is the current international standard for digital audio/video.  The most popular codec seems to be AAC (Advanced Audio Coding). 

From the MPEG Industry Forum (http://www.m4if.org/mpeg4/)..

MPEG-4 is an ISO/IEC standard developed by MPEG (Moving Picture Experts Group), the committee that also developed the Emmy Award winning standards known as MPEG-1 and MPEG-2. These standards made interactive video on CD-ROM and Digital Television possible. MPEG-4 is the result of another international effort involving hundreds of researchers and engineers from all over the world. MPEG-4, whose formal ISO/IEC designation is ISO/IEC 14496, was finalized in October 1998 and became an International Standard in the first months of 1999. The fully backward compatible extensions under the title of MPEG-4 Version 2 were frozen at the end of 1999, to acquire the formal International Standard Status early in 2000.

From Apple.com..

MPEG-4 is the global multimedia standard, delivering professional-quality audio and video streams over a wide range of bandwidths, from cell phone to broadband and beyond.

Because of its exceptional performance and quality, Advanced Audio Coding (AAC) is at the core of the MPEG-4, 3GPP and 3GPP2 specifications and is the audio codec of choice for Internet, wireless and digital broadcast arenas. AAC provides audio encoding that compresses much more efficiently than older formats, such as MP3, yet delivers quality rivaling that of uncompressed CD audio.

Shouldn't our support of standards extend to digital file formats as well?  Of course mp3 is also an ISO standard, but I see it like comparing HTML 2.0 to the current 4.01.  Both standards, one more updated and current than the other.  Why not use and support the current standard of mp4?

Re: Sermon Audio

Great! Thanks everyone! So it sounds like doing it via Flash is the way to go. I have two questions, then:

1( Will the file size for Flash file be very large? I am guessing that a majority of the people who will "stream" the audio are going to be the ones who don't have a real fast connection and don't wanna wait for a 10MB file to download (i.e., Dial-Up users). The thing I liked about using the .WMA format was that is was small enough that when the user selected a file it started streaming immediately (almost immediately) and hardly ever buffered. So will Flash format retain the smaller file type, or what?

2( What's the easiest way to get the file from MP3 format (that's what its recorded as) into Flash format? Is there anyway to do it without having Macromedia Flash? I've searched on Google and I found several programs that will convert from .MP3 to Flash, is there any *preferred* piece of software to do this with - or will almost anything work the same?

I think that rounds it up. Again, thanks a lot!

Zak

Re: Sermon Audio

Didn't see Josh's post when I posted mine...rereading...

Re: Sermon Audio

by using flash, you can deliver the MP3 without encoding it as a SWF. do some searches on Flash MP3 player and you'll find alot of good resources. If it is straight up voice sermons, then encode the MP3 in mono at around 96 kbps (64 kbps bitrate will work but may produce some bad quality sound in areas). That will help bring the filesize down.

I dream with an XML intereface

Re: Sermon Audio

Oh, gotcha! I've done a bit of researching, is this what you're talking about (note: click "Start", then "I'm an expert. Just give me the code and shut up." and you'll see a sample player)?

Thanks again!

Zak

Re: Sermon Audio

that's the basic idea

I dream with an XML intereface

Re: Sermon Audio

We're offering all of our media as MP3 for download or as a podcast, but we use an embedded flash player to play the audio (www.dts.edu/podcasts). [Our flash streaming provider is having some troubles, so we're currently using progressive download].

One thing to watch out for in flash. In Flash 7 (MX) there is a set of components called MediaController, MediaDisplay, and MediaPlayback (MediaPlayback is a combination of MediaController and MediaDisplay if you want video) . They can play MP3 files natively or they can play FLV files. An FLV is flash's proprietary file type for video (and audio).

It gets more interesting if you go to Flash 8. In Flash 7, the MediaController is very difficult to skin. You pretty much have to roll your own component. But Flash 8 introduces a new component called a FlvPlayback and a new video codec. The new codec has better video at a smaller file size. FlvPlayback also has a really nice skinning engine that is very easy to modify. The only problem is that, as far as I can tell, you cannot natively run MP3 files through the FlvPlayback unless you convert them to FLV. We converted a bunch of MP3 files to FLV (audio only) and the file size is comparable, but its not fun to have two versions (MP3 and FLV).

If you have any other questions, I'd love to try to help.

Re: Sermon Audio

John, thanks for your help! I think at this point since I don't have Macromedia Flash, I'm pretty much stuck with using a Flash player that I've found online (see link above). Obviously that means I'm stuck with an uncustomized look and features, but I think I found one that will do the job and not look too out of place. If anyone comes across a better player than the one I linked above, I'll be glad to check it out.

Thanks!

Zak

Re: Sermon Audio

John,

I like the comprehensive approach taken on your site - iTunes subscription, MP3 download, or a simple listen via the embedded Flash player. Too bad that Flash 8 requires converting the files to FLV.  What bitrate have you selected for these files? My pastor has asked me to to use 128kb/s files - but then I need to create a 16 or 32 kb/s file for those with dial-up access. This gives me yet another file to worry about managing. Have you found the sweet-spot for filesize?

- - Greg

Re: Sermon Audio

wow... 128 kbps that pretty high for voice. you can easily go 96 and not lose any quality. we went down to 64 once and really didn't see any difference but just to have a decent quality "master" we opted to go with 96 kbps mono, with a 44K sample rate although that can come down as well depending on the quality of recording equipment you use.

I dream with an XML intereface

Re: Sermon Audio

I agree that Flash is the best option to "stream" audio and video.  tank, great discourse on the differences between HTTP, streaming, etc.  You are right on the money here.

At our firm, we provide all of our clients with a dynamic Flash media player for their Websites.  We know that almost no church A/V guy is going to know Flash, but almost all of them can figure out how to make an MP3 file.  So, we make it easy... the media player Flash is a tiny SWF, and it gets all of its info from a database.  Each week, the A/V staff logs into our SiteOrganic CMS, fills out a quick form (with things like title, speaker name, date, scripture reference, etc.) and then points to the MP3 file he wants to use.  As soon as he saves the entry, visitors to the Website can listen to the file with the media player.  Take a look at Frontline for one very popular example.

The media player is nice because it can be branded to match any site.  Other benefits of this approach:

- allows users to download MP3 audio, with a disclaimer message (they don't have to right-click either... we have had many users who couldn't figure out right-clicking!)
- other goodies built in to the media player, such as file attachment capabilities, custom images for each program, automatic detection of audio vs. video, and a tool where our users can enter a scripture reference like "John 3:16" and it automatically converts it to a Bible Gateway link for the listener
- sermons can be linked from anywhere on the site, including the search engine (try it!  on the Frontline site above, do a search for "god" and see what comes up).


One other thing:  ALWAYS use pop-up players for sermons!  Users will not sit on a web page for 30 minutes to listen/watch your programs.  Think about where most people use the web--at work.  They need to be able to do "real" work while your program is playing in the corner/background.  We have tested this both ways, and the popup approach always wins out.

Re: Sermon Audio

Totally agree with the flash deal. Both of these players are fantastic....

1. Play external .mp3 files.
2. You can specify the path to the .mp3 in the flash embed code (great for using with a database driven app)
3. Easy to use

http://www.marcreichelt.de/spezial/musicplayer/
Also a plugin for textpattern - http://textpattern.org/plugins/516/bas-emff

Then there is this player. The developer rocks.

http://www.jeroenwijering.com/?item=Fla … MP3_Player

Also has a fantastic flash video player that streams .flv

http://www.jeroenwijering.com/?item=Flash_Video_Player
Also a plugin for textpattern - http://textpattern.org/plugins/517/bas-flvplayer

Re: Sermon Audio

Thanks, I'll keep that one in mind!

Zak