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Live Streaming: Everything You Need to Know about the Online Phenomenon

Streaming Delivers Audio-Visual Content to Computing Devices

Streaming technology is designed to facilitate data transfer between servers and computing devices. Streaming connections are used to continuously transmit audio-visual data, allowing recipients to enjoy instant access to the data streams. The process of transmitting streaming material is complex and necessitates a basic understanding of the mechanisms involved in sending data to PCs, Macs, smartphones, tablets and phablets.

Streaming was preceded by progressive downloads of content. This methodology was utilized for many years before streaming came into effect.  Put simply, a progressive download is a complete download of all the required data before it can be viewed, heard, or enjoyed. This form of download requires the user to download all the content before it can be used. Naturally, progressive downloads of content take time. They are not as convenient and they have high usage requirements.

What Makes Streaming the Preferred Alternative?

The difference between streaming and progressive downloads is the way in which data is transferred. With streaming, it’s not necessary to wait for the entire data file to be downloaded. Internet-based content can easily be accessed via streaming technology, since there are no lengthy wait times. Consider the Google Play Store, or the App Store. Music, video and gaming apps can be enjoyed in real time. The technology functions as ‘click and play’ and data is transferred to users whenever they need it.

Another important difference between streaming and progressive downloads is what occurs after the data has been used. Streaming audio files or video files are not stored on your computer’s hard drive. They are automatically deleted after they have streamed. However, with progressive downloads the data is stored on the hard drive until the user physically removes the files. The effectiveness of streaming technology is dependent upon several factors. These include the speed and quality of the internet connection. Standard definition video requires a speed of 2Mbps (megabits per second). This ensures that the quality of the audio-visuals will be good enough not to skip, or experience buffering delays.

For high definition (HD) content, it’s necessary to have an enhanced internet connection, typically 5 Mbps. For 4K content, 9 Mbps is needed. There is a particular type of streaming which is increasingly popular with users today: live streaming technology. Live streaming unfolds in real time. This technology is used with live news broadcasts, live sports, interactive live dealer games, or multiplayer games. The erstwhile function of streaming was the delivery of audio-visual content, but that has largely been replaced by apps and gaming services. The design structure of many online games is such that on-demand resources can now be downloaded whenever they are needed.

On-demand download resources are less resource intensive, which is particularly beneficial with data limited phone plans.  The biggest bugbear with streaming technology is the quality of the internet connection. Streaming services which are interrupted due to poor connectivity will stop functioning completely.

An important technical term in streaming is buffering. This refers to the temporary memory bank where streamed data content is stored. Without the buffer, the content that you will be needing ‘next’ will be unavailable. The buffer loads up content that is required for several minutes’ worth of streaming content. Inadequate internet connections typically result in poor buffering and this degrades the quality of the overall streaming experience.

The Power of Streaming Multimedia

In the old days, ISPs (Internet Service Providers) were the only viable means of sharing data over the internet. The standard dial-up connections limited the type of multimedia content available. Slow internet connectivity is a major hindrance to effective transmission of data. Dial-up internet using modems was self-limiting.

Slow download speeds made it virtually impossible to enjoy downloads of several megabytes, let alone video content. The lower the bandwidth, the poorer the internet connection and the download speeds. It wasn’t until Rob Glaser hit the scene in the 1990s that streaming media really took off.

Streaming media with buffers, known as media players such as RealPlayer, were incredibly popular for many years. These software programs used 56Kbps modems and stored incremental data streams at a time. These packets of data streams are transferred over servers to end users. Rather than sending the entire file in one dollop, segments of the file are sent and they are ‘recombined’ by the recipient in the right order.

Fast forward to the present day: Now things are substantially different. People in developed countries have near universal access to the internet and there have also been dramatic enhancements in bandwidth over the years.  The world now watches over 1 billion hours of YouTube content daily, and Netflix is a global phenomenon too. The world of interactive online entertainment has blossomed with streaming technology. Nowhere is this more evident than real-time interactive games like RPGs, MMORPGs, engaging sport games, strategy games like live poker, World of Warcraft, Elder Scrolls, et al.

The dramatic advances in online streaming functionality have transformed the landscape and this is just the beginning of what is possible.


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