Demo '97: Narrative finds answer to Web video

Guy Kewney reporting live from Demo '97 in Palm Springs, California
Written by Guy Kewney, Contributor

The solution to video across the Web has been found: a company called Narrative has made the breakthrough with an animated cartoon technology. For the rest, however, the message is clear: it still doesn't work, and lips don't synch.

For example, after RealAudio, Progressive Networks has moved on to RealVideo. This delivers what they describe as "newscast-quality" streaming video which you can download now and see for yourself. Over a 64 kilobit ISDN link, it nearly works. Over a standard modem, the phrase "newscast-quality" turns out to mean "like one of those interference-prone war reports or racing car cameras" - gives you something to look at.

It's moving pictures. That is to say, the fractal compression artefacts actually cause the image to shift and shimmer even when the subject is staying still.

So it's back to cartoons, and Narrative Enliven. And adverts; because what Enliven can do to the Web is make advertising viable for the first time. I mean, seriously, how much do you think Intel is going to spend on advertising on the Web if all it can say is "Intel Inside!" in a tiny banner at the top of a page?

So Enliven turns the advert into an interactive experience. A 20 second download provides enough graphics and audio and scripting for a half-minute animated cartoon sequence; and unlike most TV ads, you don't have to endure a pre-scripted banal message. You can create your own banal message by clicking parts of the image. And the image can expand and contract during playback.

At least this gives Narrative an advantage over other people offering "cool technology" to Web users: someone is going to pay for this. The viewer is free, sure, but the editing and producing suite is in line with what an advertising agency can afford.

As to the technology behind, it's objects and a scripting language. How the graphics characters are defined, I don't know, but it's clearly highly vectorised, with the images being drawn locally, rather than transmitted as bitmaps. And a scripting language tells the objects where to move and how to behave.

Apparently it's not quick enough for "twitch" games, but there are ways of tracking objects and the mouse as they travel around the screen like sprites, so some sort of amusement is possible.

It will also be good for educational stuff, they think, but they're smart enough to know that schools aren't rich. It's advertisers they're pitching to.

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