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Energis out to steal streaming market

It's good, but Real and Microsoft may beg to differ

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Energis Squared invited The Reg on a jolly to Amsterdam to tell us how it was going to take over the streaming market - you know, the transmission and reception of sounds and pictures over the Internet.

As you may well be aware, there's already a few big boys in this market. Ever heard of Real Networks, Microsoft or Apple? We of course thought Energis had gone off its rocker, but then a few days in Amsterdam is a few days in Amsterdam.

Imagine our amazement then, when exhausted and a little worse for wear after a hefty Saturday night out, the boys ran a functional, practical and useful tool in front of us. It's called Streamwave, the technology behind it is called Emblaze, and you may well have heard of it before.

This is what you need to know about Streamwave: it's a Java applet. As such, you don't need any software to run pictures and sounds on your PC - the media player is downloaded with the content and will pop up through your browser and on the HTML page.

Aside from the fact that this is one of those "feels right" technologies, Energis was keen to point out the advantages this has. Firstly, and to our minds most prominently, it means you can run pictures directly on your site - an example given was that of a CEO's speech announcing annual results. You won't have to look at it through a different app, and it gives companies effective control on their own content. Ever met a company that didn't like that?

Others pluses are things like not having to download software on every machine for you to see the pics, no updates, rejigging of formats or licences. Plus, it is clearly immediately expandable to anything with browser technology - important when you consider the pissy-fit everyone is having to tell us what it is doing in the wireless space, man (Energis is having its love-in with Orange). Other uses: video email (quite good actually), live TV, flashy advertising, distance learning etc etc.

The technology has been bought off GEO on an exclusive five-year contract and just in case it thinks about wandering off, the two have bought chunks of each other and put directors on each others' boards. It uses MPEG-4 codecs, and is apparently quite hard to do. Those to be targeted are early-adopter corporates - media, ISPs, multi-nationals - travel and ad companies.

So that's it then? Real Networks is a dead duck (shame, it was doing so well), Microsoft will just give up on its Windows Player and Apple, well, Apple will just keep trundling along. Not a bloody word of it. Yes, Energis has got big, fat pipes all over Europe and can control the process from one end to the other but there are very good reasons why it's concentrating on corporates.

Real's and Windows' players aren't just media players. With every update come a whole host of other features - Streamwave cannot and will not bother with these. These players are also fancier and, although we were assured otherwise, faster. If Energis is lucky, they will leave it alone, let it bite into the corporate market and concentrate on the sexier side of high-profile consumer stuff. Having said that, Energis' player does appear to have the edge on picture quality (but not audio quality).

The other reason it is working on corporates is that this system is gonna be expensive. We can't say how expensive because no one would give us any figures. Actually, that's a lie, we were given the example 5,000 users, a two-hour concert: £3,000. Not bad, but then this is an optimum quote. How much more 6,000 users? Three hours? Same price for two hours as quarter of an hour? We don't know how much the encoders cost either - Energis wouldn't tell us. You can hire them though.

This will not be a roll-out everywhere system. But then if Energis did go for that approach, it would be pounced on by the big boys before it had a chance to start running. It's good, it's picked what we think is the right approach and it is a genuinely good idea (how come someone hasn't done it before now?).

The major problem as we see it is that companies won't see the point of shifting and investing in Streamwave when it already has Real stuff all over its network. We raised this very point with John Beaumont (MD of Energis² (we found the little "2" this time)). John's a straight bloke: "Well I'm sure if you came to me but you had a lot of Real kit, we could come to a deal." What do you mean? "Well, Energis is a big company and we ship a lot of kit, Sun and Oracle stuff and others. A returnable deal wouldn't be difficult." Fair enough.

We wish Energis the best. But we would advise them to prepare for the worst. Microsoft and Real aren't known for their soft touch. ®

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