(updated 12/16/2012)


Winamp media player...

Winamp is a very nice media player that you can use to play audio CDs and MP3s. It has three principal components...

The "Receiver" (main window) gives you controls like Play, Stop, Back a Track, Forward a Track, Pause and Eject. There is also a slider that will position you in any part of an MP3 file being played, and one to adjust the left-to-right balance. The receiver also shows you the time of the track playing, its name and length, its bitrate, and playback mode (mono or stereo). Additionally, the receiver can shuffle the tracks to be played, and can play tracks in repeat mode.

The Playlist Editor lets you select which MP3s you wish to play, and in what order they will play. MP3s can simply be dragged-and-dropped on to the playlist, then positioned with sorting tools or manual positioning.

The Equalizer gives control over the playback of an MP3 from the perspective of tonal quality. More or less of 10 different component frequencies can improve the playback quality of poor originals.

Only the receiver needs to be running to play MP3s. The Equalizer and the Playlist Editor may be toggled on and off as needed.

This is a screen-print of Winamp Classic, version 2.90. Version 3 is available, but is not quite as friendly or well-developed as Winamp Classic. The MP3 playing is Help!, by the Beatles. The track length is 2:18. The playback is 1:06 along. It is a stereo MP3 with a bitrate of 192 Kbps at 44 kHz.

Bitrates...

The higher the bitrate, the better the quality. Bitrates range from 11 to 320 kilobits per second. Since a computer is not the best sound-reproduction device, low bitrates of 32 to 56 kbps actually sound all right for the most part. MP3s that are "ripped" at 160 to 192 kbps retain most of the fidelity of the original. MP3s of 256 to 320 kbps are virtually indistinguishable from the original.

The higher the bitrate, the more data must be passed through the media player to produce sound. When a computer cannot keep up, the sound will "drop out" and sound will go unplayed. When playing MP3s from a hard drive or CD, this is not usually a problem, but playing music from an MP3 source on the Internet can be problematic.

Shoutcast music...

Winamp enthusiasts have developed a way to broadcast MP3 playback over the Internet, effectively giving a home user the opportunity to become a "radio station". Since the signal is "weak" in the sense that the user only has to get the "signal" as far as their own Internet network port, the technique has been dubbed "shoutcast".

Shoutcast radio stations are aplenty. With Winamp installed, visit shoutcast.com to "tune in" to any one of a broad number of genres (jazz, country, rock, pop, classics) at a variety of bitrates.

Your Internet connection limits the bitrate you can successfully receive and play back without "drop outs". The same rating of "kbps" is used to describe your Internet connection speed. A 28.8K connection means you can receive up to 28.8 kbps maximum. A 56K connection receives 56 kbps. A high-speed connection receives on average about 1,000 kbps.

An Internet connection of 28 kbps is not suitable for Internet shoutcasts. A 56K connection may be used for the lower end bitrates like 22 to 32 kbps, leaving the lowly remainder of the 56 kbps for other data like browsing, downloading or retrieving email. A high-speed connection can easily give up 56 to 128 kbps (roughly 5% to 10%) with no noticeable loss of speed.

Small issues at the shoutcaster's end may also cause drop outs, and stoppage of playback. Most channels though, play consistently, and the best are professionally managed.

Become a "shoutcaster"...

Becoming a shoutcaster is relatively easy, but does require some patience, and may require some assistance. Fortunately, the Winamp people have all this quite organized and documented at their website. Follow this link to Winamp's shoutcast information page.

Requirements...

A shoutcaster may wish to shoutcast to a LAN (local area network) or to the Internet. In either case, the shoutcaster's specific IP address must be known.

When logging onto the Internet, a user typically obtains a dynamic IP address automatically from the provider. This is the port through which a computer on the Internet can be accessed.

The fact that the dynamic IP address may change from day to day, and from time to time, as the shoutcast source comes and goes on- and off-line, is problematic. Someone tuning in to your shoutcast would be using a published IP address, but if the IP address changes, the address would have to be freshly published. So, a static IP address may need be obtained. On a LAN, the static IP address is simply a common option, but for the Internet there may be an additional cost.

As a second prerequisite, for users with a router wanting to shoutcast to the Internet, the router must be set up to permit external access to the shoutcast port. This requires an understanding of the router, and knowledge of its access and setup.

Then, becoming a shoutcaster is basically a three-part process...

First, install Winamp 2.90. Download here...

Second, download Nullsoft SHOUTcast Source Plug-in for Winamp (also known as the DSP Plug-in), a Winamp DSP plug-in that enables Winamp to interface with the SHOUTcast Server software. Download this software here, and install this feature.

Third, install a web server, like AnalogX's Simple Server for Shoutcast. Download here...

Then it gets interesting...

Run Winamp and run the Simple (Shoutcast) Server. Set the few parameters in each with the instructions provided by Winamp (Shoutcast) and AnalogX. Start "serving" with Simple Server, then start the Winamp shoutcast playback. The server should link up with Winamp and begin sending out the playback through the 8000 port of the PC.

To tune in, a "listener" runs Winamp on their PC and makes an entry in their playlist that is the IP address of the serving PC with the 8000 port as the extension. (For example, the IP address of the server might be 225.45.36.143. Winamp would need go to http://225.45.36.143:8000 to reach the shoutcast.) Play begins when the listener pushes the Play button in the Winamp receiver.

A PC set up with Winamp (Classic, version 2.x), Winamp's Shoutcast Source DSP plug-in, and a web server like AnalogX's SimpleServer.Shout can broadcast the MP3s you play in Winamp. A listener "tuning in" to your URL will hear whatever you are listening to.


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