New Java Media Framework Enhances Windows Support

Web seminars and Web telecasts are growing in popularity, but the technology to download these presentations is often cumbersome. For example, video and audio presentations usually require media players that pop up and run separately from the host Web site.

A new toolkit from Sun Microsystems Inc. (www.sun.com) promises to synchronize multimedia presentations. In November, Sun began shipping version 2.0 of its Java Media Framework (JMF) API specification, which supports server-side streaming and cross-platform development, including enhancements for running on Windows.

Developed by Sun and IBM Corp. (www.ibm.com ), JMF is a unified architecture for the playback, synchronization, capture, and transmission and transcoding of media -- including streaming audio and video -- across most major operating systems. Version 1.0, released in 1998, supported client-side streaming. Version 1.1, announced at the end of 1998, supported playback functions and added support for streaming media from RTP, HTTP, and FTP sources. "In version 2.0, we extended capability to server-side streaming," says Mike Bundschuh, engineering manager for Java APIs at Sun.

Applications that can be built on top of JMF include video training applets, real-time conference videos, and information kiosks. "Primarily, what we're seeing are multimedia presentations," Bundschuh says. "A presentation can include a talking head in one corner of the screen, synchronized with a PowerPoint presentation in the other corner." Future applications could include interfaces to customer support operations or distance learning.

The tool brings developers one step closer to supporting full-motion video over the Internet, Bundschuh says. But other factors -- such as bandwidth and CPU power -- need to be addressed to fully accommodate online video. "Running at 24 frames per second at full screen can be very intensive -- the more horsepower the better," he notes.

JMF 2.0 offers developers advanced media processing capabilities, including media capture, compression, and transmission and support for media types and codecs such as MP3, Flash, HotMedia, Rich Media Format (RMF), and Realtime Transport Protocol and Realtime Streaming Protocol (RTP/RTSP). JMF also supports QuickTime, AVI, and MPEG-1.

JMF now includes an open media architecture that lets developers access and manipulate various components of the media playback and capture process -- including effects, tracks, and renders -- or use their own custom plug-in components.

JMF 2.0 can be preinstalled on the client system or downloaded for use in Java applets and applications. Development shops working with JMF 2.0 report a reduction in the time required for encoding and more platform flexibility.

Softcom Inc. (www.softcom.com), an interactive video application service provider, has been using JMF to establish a multimedia distance learning site for the Institute of Electronic and Electrical Engineers (IEEE). JMF has been effective for both Web site and CD-based presentations, says Douglas Warshaw, vice president of content programming at Softcom. "Since we don't know what's going to be on the user's system, we use the Java Media Framework, and put the Java Virtual Machine and everything else right on the CD. We use that as a secondary distribution system."

JMF 2.0 ships in four different versions, each tailored to meet different developer needs. In addition to the standard JMF 2.0 option, developers can choose among optimized power packs for the Solaris Operating Environment, Windows, and Web servers.

"With the Windows version, we give you more codecs and support for additional functions we can't do completely in Java, such as MPEG-1," Bundschuh says. "We actually coexist quite well with the DirectX interface, and make use of that."