What Is Streaming Video?

by Nick Smith,
Publisher of CamStudio: Streaming Video Software

Streaming Video came about mainly due to the limitations of dialup Internet connections being too slow to show video. Back in the days before cable or broadband access, if you wanted to watch a video, you had to download the entire video before you could watch it - and on a 56k modem that would take f-o-r-e-v-e-r!

So the technical bods created a technology called "streaming."

Here's Wikipedia's definition:

" ... multimedia that is continuously received by, and normally displayed to, the end-user while it is being delivered by the provider."

The name refers to the delivery method of the medium rather than to the medium itself. The distinction is usually applied to media that are distributed over telecommunications networks, as most other delivery systems are either inherently streaming (e.g. radio, television) or inherently non-streaming (e.g. books, video cassettes, audio CDs). The verb 'to stream' is also derived from this term, meaning to deliver media in this manner. (Source: Wikipedia.org)

What's that in English, I hear you cry?

OK, here's how it works: once you click a link or visit a URL for a streaming video, it will start the streaming process by transferring part of the video over. Whie you are watching this first part, the server will continue to send over the rest of the video file in the "background" - so you don't have to wait until the whole video has finished transferring before you can start watching.

Cool huh?

Here's another way to think about it: When you sit down and watch TV or listen to the radio, you are viewing/hearing a signal that is continously being sent, right? That exactly how streaming video works.

If you want to take the analogy further, think of books, video and CDs as non-streaming sources - you have to be in possession of the whole item before you can use it.

The technology behind streaming video has been around for a while now, but didn't really pickup until high-speed Internet access (ADSL, Cable, etc.) started to become available.

Now that connection speeds are fast enough (and getting faster every year), TV companies are starting to experiment with delivering programs online. Over here in the UK where I'm based, the main terrestrial channels (BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and 5) are all starting to make certain programs available online for upto 7 days after they are shown so people who missed them can watch them again.

Indeed, the BBC have had their "Listen Again" online archive for all the national and local BBC Radio stations available for a few years now and it was just a matter of time before it happened for their TV programs too.

And this isn't just limited to the UK: the US and the rest of the world are finally cottoning onto the potential of "Internet TV" so the next 12-18 months are definitely going to be an exciting time.

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