Aviva Directory » Computers & Internet » Software » Multimedia » Audio & Video » Streaming Media Software

Software involved in the production, transmission or reception of streaming video and streaming audio is the focus of topics in the Streaming Media category.

Streaming media is a method used to deliver multimedia elements, usually audio or video, from a data-streaming service provider to an end-user, usually using HTTP, TCP/IP, and HTML protocols. Streaming refers to a steady stream of data and, unlike other methods of downloading data, where data order is not important, streaming media must be delivered in the correct order.

Most often, streaming media is used to stream videos or music that has been prerecorded, but media can also be streamed as live broadcasts.

Streaming media is a relatively new technology. At a time when most people were connecting to the Internet through a dialup connection, someone wanting to listen to a simple music track might have to wait for a half-hour for the entire file to download to the hard drive, and video files would take several hours. The problem was not so much a matter of technology, but of bandwidth. The speed of the Internet connection was too slow to support streaming media. Early DSL connections were a huge improvement but many people still didn't have the bandwidth required to stream movies. While many people, even today, particularly in rural areas, don't have Internet connections that are fast enough to comfortably stream movies, most of the United States now have high-speed Internet available, and streaming has allowed a lot of people to cancel their cable television contracts.

The basic technology for it began in the mid-1990s, in the early days of the Internet, when Rob Glaser and the Real company pioneered streaming media. The idea was that an end-user would install a media player on his computer that would play a file while it was downloading. With slower connections, it would download a portion of the file, store it, then start to play. As the media player played the first part of the file, it was downloading the next portion of it. If all went well, by the time the first portion had finished the next portion would be downloaded. Otherwise, there would be a pause, known as buffering. Unlike downloading an entire file, then playing it, the media player never stored more than a small amount of the entire file. Once it played a portion of the file, it would be deleted to make room for the next part.

Data moves efficiently across the Internet because it is broken up into small parts, known as packets. Each packet is addressed independently and travels separately, with different packets of the same file traveling by different routes.

When a file is downloaded traditionally, a server sends it in a large number of packets, one after another, and the user has to wait until all of them arrive before anything can be done with the file. With streaming, the user can begin to use the packets as soon as enough of them have arrived.

There are two basic types of streaming media: genuine streaming and progressive (pseudo-streaming) downloading.

Internet radio stations usually use genuine streaming, downloading and playing simultaneously through a media player, such as RealPlayer, QuickTime, or Windows Media Player. With a fast enough connection, the end-user can enjoy audio quality that is roughly the equivalent of a downloaded MP3 file in quality, although not as good as you would get from a CD. As Internet connections have improved, more and more people have been able to stream television programs and movies that way, as well.

Some services that might feel like streaming aren't actually doing so. Some, like YouTube, use an approach known as progressive downloading, which is a sort of a hybrid of conventional downloading and streaming. Often quicker and easier to implement than actual streaming, it is used by a lot of websites. With progressive downloading, a large portion, and sometimes all, of a file downloads to the user's web browser cache, and the browser plays it simultaneously. Unlike actual streaming, the user may not be able to skip forward. Another difference is that the file remains in the browser cache even after the video has been watched.

Whatever the method, any software involved in the process of streaming audio or video is appropriate for this category. However, streaming media channels or services will be listed in the Streaming Media category within the Arts & Literature category, as this category is for software.



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