Fun with Streaming

As many of you reading this page know, I’ve been a Mac user for many years, and am also a big music fan (to the tune of about 4 GB of MP3s ripped from my CDs sitting on my Powerbook’s hard drive). So when I started working at my internship this summer, I didn’t want to move all the MP3s to my work computer so I could listen to them. But I don’t have a portable MP3 player either…

I’m definitely also a big Mac OS X fan. The brainstorm I’m currently working on is setting up streaming media services on my Powerbook running OS X so that I can leave my MP3s on my personal machine and listen to them on my work machine (there was already an ethernet hub in the office when I got here, so I can bring my Powerbook in and plug it in for music). Why not just plug headphones into my Powerbook? Well, I’m not exactly in a Mac-friendly organization, so I want to be able to turn off the music from my work computer so I can tuck the Powerbook somewhere inconspicuous. Also, my middle name is “stubborn geek.”

Setting up streaming turns out to be slightly more complicated than I thought, though. There are three programs I’ve looked at so far, and each has its own issues. All the servers have a few problems in common:
(a) All the MP3s have to be the same bit rate. What a pain in the neck. I’ve encoded stuff with a bunch of different settings using multiple different encoders and I have no desire to re-encode my files…
(b) None of the servers support any client-side playlist formats. It’s pretty annoying to have to go back to foldering or some other format for listing MP3s to be played.

MP3 Streamer

This program began life as a Classic Mac OS application and has been “Carbonized” for use on Mac OS X. Its operation is theoretically simple: choose the port on which you want to stream, drop the MP3 files you want to stream into a folder, and click Run. You should then be able to connect with another computer.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get a successful connection from my Windows laptop using either Quicktime or Windows Media Player–lots of errors.


Like MP3 Streamer, this is a Carbonized application with one purpose in life–streaming MP3s. Unfortunately, like MP3 Streamer, it also doesn’t like providing music to Windows clients very much. Plays great on a Mac client pretty well, though. But it does have more serious problems:
(a) It blows up when you drag’n’drop files on top of its playlist pane.
(b) It only allows you to start it up 10 times before registering it. This is especially a problem when combined with (a).

So I moved on to look at

Quicktime Streaming Server

This is the mack daddy of streaming media servers for Mac OS X (and Solaris, and WinNT platforms, and Linux…). It’s pretty industrial strength. It’s also relatively headless–you administer it through a web page, so if you want to go and make changes from another machine, you don’t have to physically sit down at the server to make your configuration changes. However
(a) It only plays QuickTime formats natively. This means that you need to convert your MP3 files to hinted QuickTime movies before you can stream them. I’m pretty sure there’s a quick tool around somewhere to accomplish this, but it’s too bad it can’t handle MP3s natively without additional tweaking.
(b) The web admin interface is buggy, occasionally complaining about having insufficient privileges to execute certain configuration actions.

So it looks like I’ll be learning all about QuickTime movie production if I want to hear my music this summer, unless I find another alternative (Shoutcast server for BSD might be another option). Unfortunately, I also (since I’ll be listening behind a firewall) don’t think it’s going to be possible for anyone else to listen in. Oh, well. Sometimes being a stubborn geek isn’t the most rewarding path.