Looking Back: Old Multimedia on the Web

If you grew up in the early 90’s and you had a computer chances are that you were connected to the world wide web. The internet was very popular, with services like AOL and EarthLink you’d be signed online and you could explore the web – you were only limited by your modem’s speed (and your phone bill). You had a 56k modem if you were lucky and even then things weren’t too ‘quick’.

Web Multimedia was at it’s infancy and it took ages to download anything worth watching. You would need special plug-ins and codecs and unlike today not everything was usually compatible with each other. Especially having a Mac there were a lot of videos and other items that just wouldn’t work. Growing up in this internet age my parents had a Power Macintosh 7500 desktop. It was pretty quick in my eyes and it was the main computer of the house. I vividly remember logging onto AOL 2.7, going to the Games section and looking for downloads. I’d usually choose the downloads where the download time was less than 1 minute. This would included video game midis, south park audio clips, and other small audio files that managed to be uploaded by other users.

I remember once finding a Star Wars site online and downloading a ton of audio clips from the movies. I was devastated when my Dad needed to delete them to make space on our computer. This was before we had our Zip 100 drive which would let us save up to 100MB on each of our own disks. I remember getting one for my birthday, that must have been the geekiest gift ever!

Videos were a whole other story. I remember putting in one of Apple’s Mac OS 8 install discs (either 8.5 or 8.6), it had a Bare Naked Ladies music video on it and I was amazed how the quality could look so good. I remember knowing little about what a DVD was, but later on I tried to install the DVD Player software on our older Non-DVD equipped Mac. Of course that never worked, and I later found out why.

Online videos were mostly streaming, I remember RealPlayer was unfortunately used a lot. It was always hard to track down the free version of RealPlayer too. Especially the Mac version, they always wanted you to download the Gold version. Since I was young I was afraid of anything I had to pay for, I didn’t know how it worked but I assumed money was taken instantly from my Dad’s wallet via magic. I never understood why everyone liked RealPlayer, I hated it, I could never save a movie, we’d have to be online to see it. I remember whenever something was a QuickTime file I’d try and save it with mixed success. I remember my Dad bringing home QuickTime 4 on a CD, that was cool since it had some live “TV” like stations you could watch. Not a lot of them worked, but when they did you felt like you had your own little TV on your computer. There was a TechTV channel and a Weather channel. They were usually either pre-recorded clips or a few minutes of a show that repeated.

Speaking of your own personal TV our Mac 7500 had AV and S-Video input on the back. We had an old VCR hooked up to the machine so we could watch VHS tapes or even watch basic cable. I remember taking screenshots and small video recordings of The Simpsons. I also remember watching Star Wars: Return of the Jedi on our Mac and playing with the figures while doing so. I was fascinated by that, later I would understand how it worked, but back then it was magic.

Today you can download a whole movie or steam a movie from Netflix in a matter of minutes. Video compression is worlds better, and RealPlayer is unheard of. MP3 files have taken over the portable MIDI sound files, and with CD burners built-in to nearly every machine today it’s easy to share multimedia to friends and family. But you can even blast the content over to another machine online, you don’t have to wait to mail a disc to show your relatives who live elsewhere your photos. Just upload them to Flickr to send them an email.

Digital audio and video technology has sure come a long way since I was a kid. And I’m sure glad it has, without their advancements it would be cumbersome and frustrating to share audio and video on the web. Let alone show somebody how to access this file!