Video files are large. This is because standard video has 30 image frames per second, together with audio information. A few seconds of video can be like downloading a web page with several hundred pictures. If one has a fast link, this is not a problem, otherwise one has to download the overnight, if one has an Internet account with unlimited connect time.
To overcome this, we compress the video using and MPEG compressor. MPEG is the finest quality compressor available today. It can deliver true 30 frame per second video at full TV (NTSC) quality (360x240 pixels). Other video on the web (e.g. VDOLive) is of a much lower quality.
If you are using Windows95 or NT, you can easily play MPEG. One can download for free the Microsoft Internet Explorer which comes bundled with an MPEG player. Alternatively, you can purchase NetTOOB for $19.95. Both these viewers allow one to start playing before the entire video is downloaded.
On other computers, e.g. Macintosh and Unix, I do not know what are good players. But you can probably find one from the MPEG FAQ page.
You do not necessarily need the fastest computer on the market to play MPEG videos. The most important ingredient is a good graphics card.
Some of the finest graphics cards today are the Matrox Millennium, the Number Nine Imagine 128, and the Diamond Stealth64. A good graphics accelerator card will keep the video smoothly flowing even on a slow computer. Also, if one has 4 Mbytes of VRAM on the card one can get truer color (24 or 32 bits to represent each color) and higher resolution on your screen (1280x1024 or more pixels). Make sure to use the DISPLAY Control Panel to tell Windows95/NT to use the higher quality settings.
Once one has a high quality graphics card one also needs a high quality monitor. 21 inch monitors are nice, but you should be able to get also use a 17 inch monitor. Monitors vary a lot. Even one brand from one manufacturer. One really needs to test it out in the store, or look at someone else's. However, I have been happy in the past with Hitachi, EIZO, and NEC.
Any 16 Bit SoundBlaster will do fine for sound. Cards from the Creative Labs (the manufacturer of the SoundBlaster) have been rumored to be the most reliable. Speakers are more important, but you need to go to a store to test out which ones sound the best.
We get excellent performance with our Dual Processor Pentium Pro 200 MHz machines from SAG electronics. But even our 90 MHz Pentium Gateways perform quite well.
I have found a very good way to shop is the Ziff Davis NetBuyer Magazine. After you get to the NetBuyer magazine, choose a tool called the Buying Advisor. First you choose the equipment you want (monitor, sound card, etc.). It then asks you a few questions about what you want to use your computer for. It then will give you a list of products, pointers to reviews of those products, and even a table comparing the products. Not only that, but it will also list the prices you can buy the product at from a variety of online sources. Basically, it does the price shopping on the WWW for you!
Video Cinematographer: Yechezkal Shimon Gutfreund