What's the best software for streaming live radio on the internet?
August 22, 2004 7:30 PM   Subscribe

What is the best software for a radio station to use when streaming live audio via the internet? Similarly, what piece of software do most individuals use to listen to webcasts? [MI]

Background: After receiving some negative feedback about RealAudio/RealPlayer, the radio station I am currently affiliated with has been discussing a move from our current Real-based setup to some other format. While I am not a fan of Real myself, I was under the impression that a majority of people used RealPlayer to stream audio over the internet.

Personally, I would like to go with whatever software will allow the largest number of users to listen to our stream. Further, our RealAudio setup costs us nothing to maintain, as our bandwidth, the RealAudio encoding software, and support of the computer doing the RealAudio encoding is provided to the station free of charge. Being a non-commercial station (read: quite poor) any alternative to Real would need to be inexpensive, and rather low maintenance.

That said, is there another (low cost) encoding format that would allow a greater number of listeners to hear our broadcast via the internet?
posted by darainwa to Computers & Internet (15 answers total)
How about icecast? Free both in licensing and in cost (the software that is. You may have to start paying for your own hardware and bandwidth).

It'll work fine with winamp (it's shoutcast compatible), and I suspect windows media player will play it too.
posted by fvw at 7:45 PM on August 22, 2004

As a listener, I would beg you to use streaming mp3 (icecast, shoutcast, etc.) Using Real/WMP is such a pain in the ass that I find myself rarely bothering with those stations.
posted by mookieproof at 8:32 PM on August 22, 2004

Response by poster: With the streaming MP3 formats mentioned above, do you not have to license the MP3 codec from Fraunhofer?
posted by darainwa at 9:01 PM on August 22, 2004

darianwa - I believe if you use a shoutcast based system, a fairly good quality official MP3 encoder is included for free. It's just restricted in bitrate - you can't broadcast in 160kbps or anything, but on the internet, why would you want to?

Icecast can use LAME for encoding, which should (IANAL) get past the licencing issue - I can't recall anyone ever being sued for using LAME. Or, you could go with OGG - all the decent players support it, it gives good quality for streaming, and no licencing issues.

Completely "free" system = Linux server + Oddcast (for encoding the stream) + Icecast (for broadcast) + OGG (as the format).

Another idea - ever thought of offering a Peercast stream? Peercast will stream anything you throw at it - OGG, MP3 and even (if you're a sadist) WMA. But the cool thing, bandwidth-wise, is that it's designed so that listeners "piggyback" on other listeners's streams, saving you bandwidth. Theoretically, you can broadcast to thousands of users with only one stream worth of bandwidth being used. Peercast requires users to have an extra piece of software installed, though, but it might be good to offer it in addition to the normal stream and encourage users to try it if they want to help save your bandwidth.
posted by Jimbob at 11:32 PM on August 22, 2004

I listen to net radio constantly on my windows based thinkpad. I've tried all the players, and over a dial-up, sadly Real 8 is still the best performer, offering the most efficient buffer and hence the most consistent stream. I find I’ll just give up trying to listen to the broken streams of content on other formats.
posted by dong_resin at 1:08 AM on August 23, 2004

"you can't broadcast in 160kbps or anything, but on the internet, why would you want to"

Umm.. so your listeners can listen to a good-quality stream?
posted by ascullion at 2:18 AM on August 23, 2004

if you have winamp 5.04, check out this stream: listen to it for a bit, then check the kbps. CRAZY. that's aacplus.
posted by lotsofno at 5:52 AM on August 23, 2004

Winamp, unless it's the BBC forcing me to use Real.

(That's astounding, lotsofno - I can't wait for everyone to start using that.

(It is making Winamp behave oddly, though - constant buffering - though no pause in playback or anything.))
posted by Blue Stone at 7:35 AM on August 23, 2004

Ignore the buffering thing above - I forgot I was fiddling with the cache settings in WinAmp.
posted by Blue Stone at 8:10 AM on August 23, 2004

"I was under the impression that a majority of people used RealPlayer to stream audio over the internet."

This may be true, but it's not the most universal solution for listeners.

I'd back up the notion of MP3 streaming. Any computer which has Real, Windows Media Player, iTunes, Winamp, QuickTime or many other programs can listen to an MP3 stream. The user can pick the client they want.

I would avoid Ogg for now. It's not that much better, if at all, and has a user compatibility rating of about 1 percent.
posted by Mo Nickels at 9:11 AM on August 23, 2004

MP3 streaming is my favourite, as a listener, by far
posted by ascullion at 10:57 AM on August 23, 2004

WBUR (NPR in Boston) uses MPEG-4/Quicktime, and it is very nice.

But I would also have to agree with mp3, as it is the most widely supported...
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 11:31 AM on August 23, 2004

Also, for people with Windows systems listening at work (where streaming audio may be frowned upon and people may not have administrative rights to their machines), RealPlayer requires admin rights to install. Winamp and QPlayer do not, and WMP will most likely already be installed.
posted by mookieproof at 11:49 AM on August 23, 2004

Another mp3 streaming here boss. Mo Nickels makes the point well.
posted by i_cola at 3:13 PM on August 23, 2004

Umm.. so your listeners can listen to a good-quality stream?

You don't even demand that degree of quality from an FM station even - why would it be necessary on the internet?

Lotsofno's stream proves that nicely. If you need 160kbps to produce a listenable stream, you're not using the right encoder.
posted by Jimbob at 3:38 AM on August 24, 2004

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