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From Higher Intellect Vintage Wiki

RealAudio is a system with several parts:

  • A “file format” used to transfer sound files over the Internet in real time.
  • Commercial software to create and serve RealAudio content.
  • Free client software that receives and plays RealAudio content.

As CPUs and network connections increase in speed and bandwidth, it becomes more feasible to transfer video and audio files over networks such as the Internet. RealAudio (the company) has advanced this technology to the point that users of RealAudio 1.0 could receive low-quality audio over 14,400-baud modem connections.

RealAudio files don’t contain the actual sounds[em]rather, the audio data is “streamed” from the server machine to the client machine. The streamed data is compressed by the server and decompressed by a RealAudio player or plug-in application on the user’s computer. This approach avoids time- consuming writes to the client’s disk and massive sound files, albeit with an unmistakeable effect on sound quality.

RealAudio allows users to receive content that it just isn’t practical to deliver in AIFF /U-law/MPEG format—large files like the complete soundtrack to Plan 9 from Outer Space ,which would take days to download and dozens or hundreds of megabytes to store.

RealAudio’s sound quality suffers as a result. It’s often compared to AM radio.

In 1995, when RealAudio was released, the format was used primarily in conjunction with the World Wide Web. It’s possible that RealAudio might develop a usefulness outside the context of the Web, as a sort of Internet radio. Given the popular success of the Web, however, it’s likely that RealAudio will continue to be used as a soundtrack.

If you have a 28.8 modem or better, be sure to download the RealAudio 2.0 client package, which can includes a Netscape Navigator plug-in. If you’ve got a 14.4 modem or slower, you can use the RealAudio 1.0 client. Both versions of the software install all of the necessary components automatically. Version 1.0 even configures Netscape to use RealAudio as a helper application.